By Lisa Speckhard Pasque
Holly and Candy Long were born just about a year apart and looked alike in the way only sisters do.
But along with their brown, deep-set eyes, they shared a rocky childhood and family history of mental illness. As adults, both ended up incarcerated at Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Wisconsin’s only medium and maximum-security prison for women.
Holly was sentenced to 30 years in 1998 for a spate of charges including party to robbery and party to kidnapping. Candy would later join her at Taycheedah twice, the second time for about eight months, and was released first, Holly said.
Candy was excited for Holly’s exit. Growing up in a chaotic house, they never got the chance to do sister things like shopping or getting their nails done, Holly said.
“It was so sad because every year she would say, ‘I believe you’re going to get out this year, sister,’” Holly said. “And then finally, the year that I do get out, she passes away.”
Candy, addicted to crack and meth, died of a heart attack after drug use in March.
Candy’s story is not unique. Keisha Russell, president of Milwaukee nonprofit Infallible Helping Hands, founded a Facebook support group for former inmates like herself, where women can ask for prayers for job interviews, celebrate the end of parole or just connect.
Other posts announced over 30 deaths of ex-inmates in the last year, with causes ranging from drug overdose to suicide. Former Inmates who survive can relapse into drug abuse, return to an abuser and get sent back to prison.
According to statistics provided by the Department of Corrections for 2010 to 2015, an average of 1.8 percent of former women inmates on supervision died within two years of release, though that number spiked to 3.2 percent in 2015. That compares to an average of 1.7 percent for men.