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Women Behind Bars

Aired July 1, 2008 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, women behind bars. Convicted murders, burglars and addicts, locked up for life.
JOYCE WHITE, IN JAIL: I was traumatized, beaten, battered and raped. I took everything out on him.

KING: Tonight, women doing hard time. Who are the people behind the crimes and why did they break the law?

JENNIFER WEEDON, IN JAIL: Held from behind and put his hands around my neck.

KING: Go inside a world rarely seen by outsiders. Exclusive access and answers. Women behind bars next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. We have been granted tonight, rare access in the extraordinary facility here in Jessup, Maryland. The Maryland Correctional Institute for Women which covers the whole gamut of penalty from minimum to maximum. And before I talk with the inmates, watch these stories.


CYNTHIA LEVERING, IN JAIL: My name is Cynthia Levering. I was convicted of first-degree murder.

WHITE: My name is Joyce White. I have a life sentence of first- degree murder.

JENENE BROWN, IN JAIL: My name is Jenene Brown. I'm locked up for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

MARIA SWICK, IN JAIL: Hi, I'm Maria Swick and my offense is burglary.

WEEDON: My name is Jennifer Weedon. I'm here for first degree assault doing a 15-year sentence.

LEVERING: I was sentenced to life without parole for 75 years. A home invasion, two people knocked at a door and they were let in and one person was shot.

SWICK: I'm here for 15 years. I got addicted to pain medication. We would go in like a Wal-Mart, you know, stuff that was easy, sell them to the drug dealer.

WHITE: I walked in and I caught him performing fellatio on my son and that's when I zoned out and I shot him.

BROWN: I have a 20-year sentence. I was in an abusive relationship. A family member of mine decided that enough was enough and I refused to testify against this family member, so in turn, I took the charge.

WEEDON: On Labor Day, we were drinking alcohol and had an argument and I was washing dishes and I stabbed him.


KING: Five inmates are with us. We will talk with each individually, get some collective thoughts and later we'll have an extraordinary surprise visit and then we'll meet the warden of this facility.

Let's start with Jennifer Weedon, serving 15 years for first degree assault, sentence back started in 2003.

Jennifer, what happened?

WEEDON: My husband and I had a domestic dispute on Labor Day in 2003. We were separated at the time. We both had been drinking. He came into the apartment of my friend that I was staying at, came from behind and put his hands behind my neck. And I was washing dishes and I hit him with -- cut him in his stomach with a -- they don't know exactly if it was a fork or knife.

KING: He died from that?

WEEDON: He didn't die. He went to shock trauma. I took an Alford plea, not knowing exactly what it was.

KING: So he lived?


KING: He's living now?

WEEDON: No. He just died February 4th from throat cancer.

KING: Not from your --


KING: If he grabbed you by the throat and you took up an instrument to him, how were you convicted? It seems like self-defense.

WEEDON: There's no self-defense law in Maryland. And my husband never pressed charges. We still remained together through all these years. He's tried many times to get me out but the Frederick County state's attorney and judge wouldn't let me go.

KING: Why?

WEEDON: Because of my prior past record. KING: Which was?

WEEDON: A lot of misdemeanors and my husband and I did have a record of domestic disputes because we were both alcoholics and we had a record of domestic disputes.

KING: So you've got 15 years. Will you get time off for good behavior?

WEEDON: I have some time off. I don't get paroled until 2013. I'll be doing most of my time.

KING: What's it like in here for you?

WEEDON: It's lonely. But it's like a whole different world. I don't think of society anymore. I can't think of society. I just live behind these walls and what's functioning in these walls. I hold a job and help the women on my pod with their problems.

KING: You go day-to-day.

WEEDON: Exactly.

KING: Do you have any children?

WEEDON: I have two.

KING: How old?

WEEDON: Twenty-four and my son will be 23.

KING: Have they come to see you?

WEEDON: I have no contact with the outside world except by pen and paper.

KING: By your decision?


KING: You don't want them to come see you?


KING: Why?

WEEDON: I can't handle any contact with the outside. I feel it would be too painful for them and too painful for me when they leave. I have too many years down here.

KING: Do you go through the day saying, I shouldn't be here?

WEEDON: No. I go through the day -- every morning, I wake up and I regret what I did. I wish it would have never happened because I didn't intentionally do it. But I thank God for another day I'm alive and I feel there's a purpose and meaning behind it and I am thankful for giving my daughter, my granddaughter, my son and my grandson. So I'm thankful I'm still alive.

KING: But no visitors, no contact.

WEEDON: None at all.

KING: You'll remain with us, of course, Jennifer.

Next is Joyce White. Joyce is serving a life sentence for first- degree murder, incarcerated back in 1983.

What happened, Joyce?

WHITE: After I had been severely raped, I moved back to the Eastern Shore.

KING: You were raped?

WHITE: After I had been severely raped, I couldn't take it anymore, I moved back to the Eastern Shore. Once I got there, I couldn't live with the person I thought I was supposed to live with, so I ended up living with my victim who I killed later and I was homeless. And I had been on drugs, I had gotten on the methadone program and all that. And so I walked in one day and I caught Clyde performing fellatio sex on my son.

KING: Wait a minute, your boyfriend?

WHITE: No, he was someone I was taking care of, like a caregiver.

KING: So he wasn't romantic?

WHITE: No. Well, yes. I was homeless, so I was forced to live there. I was forced to do things I didn't want to do.

KING: So he was romantic towards you?


KING: He's performing fellatio on your son. How old was your son?

WHITE: My son was 4-years-old at the time.

KING: What did you do?

WHITE: When I walked in on him, he told me that he had done it before. I left, I came back later on after I had intoxicated myself. He told me he had done it before. I picked up the rifle. Clyde did not know I was going to kill him. So I picked up the rifle and I walked back towards the carpet and I shot Clyde.

KING: Killed him right there?

WHITE: I shot him four times with the rifle.

KING: You were drunk?

WHITE: I was intoxicated, yes.

KING: Did the 4-year-old witness this?

WHITE: No. He didn't witness the murder. I had took him away when I first caught him doing it. It was two separate times.

KING: At your trial, was there a trial?


KING: Were your grounds -- was your defense the fact that he was doing this horrible?

WHITE: No. Those were not the grounds. And that's what I regret telling my story. My mother knew, my lawyer knew.

KING: You didn't tell the court?


KING: Why not?

WHITE: I didn't know. I was illiterate to the fact. My mother, they're the type of people that push things under the rug. They didn't want to talk about it. My lawyer, was disbarred later. He said that I would be OK because there was just a fingerprint on the rifle and that because I lived in the house. And I believed I was getting off.

KING: He was disbarred? Where's the 4-year-old? How old is your son now?

WHITE: My son is 30-years-old this year. He's incarcerated at UCI.

KING: He is in prison. For doing what?

WHITE: Possession. I just recently found that out. Possession of drugs.

KING: How do you live like that in here? How do you deal with yourself?

WHITE: Well at first when I first became incarcerated, I thought a life for a life, I deserved it. I deserved to be here because I took somebody's life. And after being here all these years, it's like how many more years do I have to do? Clyde was a pedophile.

My life was not all peaches and cream. I've been a drug user. I've been molested. I've been beat. I've been battered. I've been raped. So I feel I should be forgiven.

KING: So you don't think you deserve to be here? WHITE: No. I deserve to do some time for the crime I committed regardless of the circumstances but how long, I don't know. Because I really believe I should be free at this point.

KING: We'll be right back with more after this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last thing that I remember that evening was going to my mother's, I was drinking heavily. I remember laying down in the basement and the TV was on. That's all that I remember.




KING: What are we having?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It could be worse, it could be much worse.

WHITE: I've lost a lot of weight because of these bland foods. It's delicious.

WEEDON: I'm having white bread with cole slaw and a fish patty. It's little dry today. It's a little dry. We have to come to lunch. They make us come to lunch. It's a hit-and-run event.


KING: We're back. This is LARRY KING LIVE, a special edition at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup. We have five of the inmates.

The next one we meet is Cynthia Levering, convicted of first- degree murder in 1991, sentenced to life without parole plus 75 years.

What does that mean, plus 75 years? After life, they give you more?

LEVERING: Absolutely.

KING: What does that mean?

LEVERING: I couldn't say.

KING: What happened, Cynthia, what did you do?

LEVERING: Well I didn't always make good choices in life. I was a drug addict and I was on the streets of Baltimore with little family support. But the night in question that led me to being here, what I know, I've read in transcripts, I don't -- I don't know that it was me. I don't have any memory of it.

KING: You don't remember what you did? LEVERING: No.

KING: What do the transcripts say you did?

LEVERING: That a man was shot and killed at his home. There was a co-defendant involved.

KING: What happened to the co-defendant?

LEVERING: He's also doing time.

KING: So the charge was you and him murdered someone?

LEVERING: Yes, that I did.

KING: You did and what did he do, the other co-defendant?

LEVERING: That he was present.

KING: That made him a partner in the crime?


KING: Why do you think you don't remember?

LEVERING: Like I said, I was a drug addict. I recall -- I remember that I had been drinking. The last thing I remember was being at my mother's.

KING: Who was the man that you killed?

LEVERING: I don't know. Not someone that I knew.

KING: You didn't know him?

LEVERING: No, had never met.

KING: Did the state show you had any kind of relationship with him?


KING: So your defense was, you don't remember?

LEVERING: I don't recall the event of that night, no.

KING: How do they know you did it?

LEVERING: Well, a lineup was conducted and I was not chosen, someone else was. The little bit of physical evidence that they took from me, I thought that that would help me during my trial, but the end result was they said that those items were never tested. And I believe that those items would have tested negative, had they been tested. So those items were not available to -- for use at my trial.

KING: The transcript says it was a home invasion. The trial report says you and your former lover posed as stranded motorists to get into the house. The victim was shot five times with a handgun, as his 66-year-old wife tried to fight you off. The prosecution's star witness said that you confessed to the murder, saying, I'm sorry I had to shoot him to protect Tommy.

You don't remember any of that?

LEVERING: No. I never confessed to anything.

KING: If you don't remember, how do you know?

LEVERING: This was after I had been locked up. I could have only made that confession after I was locked up.

KING: Right.

LEVERING: And I never confessed that to anyone.

KING: Let's say you were really on drugs that night and spaced out.


KING: Do you accept the fact that you did this?

LEVERING: I guess if I knew for sure in my heart that I did, I'd have to accept it and live with it.

KING: But you don't?

LEVERING: No. Because to me, they did not prove that beyond a reasonable doubt. I have a lot of questions, a lot of unanswered questions.

KING: Are you saying you weren't even in that house that night or you don't know?

LEVERING: I don't believe that I was.

KING: So someone set you up?

LEVERING: That's a possibility.

KING: That man was killed, right?


KING: So you think you're in here wrongfully?

LEVERING: I believe that's a possibility.

KING: Therefore, what is life like for you in here, if you believe you didn't do anything?

LEVERING: It's hard. I have a lot of regrets in life from things that aren't associated to my incarceration. KING: The murder, are you appealing?

LEVERING: I have future litigation that is going on. I'm just hopeful.

KING: Are you treated well here?

LEVERING: This is a prison. I'd say, yes, I'm treated well here for a prison, yes. This is probably one of the best prisons we could be in.

KING: You've got a great warden.

LEVERING: Absolutely.

KING: We will meet her in a while.

OK let's go to the back row and Jenene Brown. Jenene is serving 20 years for first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Jenene, what happened in your case?

BROWN: I was in an abusive relationship. And during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2002, the guy I was involved with at the time had been put out of my house. He later came back a couple days later and we got into an altercation. I was severely beat. When I went to the hospital, family members were contacted and told of the incident.

KING: He beat you?

BROWN: Yes. One particular family member decided he had had enough for me and took matters into his own hand. So on Thanksgiving day of 2002, the guy was murdered.

KING: And he did it?


KING: Why are you here?

BROWN: I refused to testify.

KING: Because you refused to testify, you're in jail for murder?

BROWN: Exactly.

KING: Or conspiracy?

BROWN: Exactly.

KING: The state says you definitely knew he did it.

BROWN: The state knows that I did not do it. I played no part. They know that he did do it. But by me refusing to testify, they give me the charge, you're just guilty by association.

KING: Were you present?


KING: So wait a minute. Because you've been beat up by this guy, a member of your family goes and kills this guy.

BROWN: Exactly.

KING: You don't go with him.

BROWN: Exactly.

KING: You don't go with him and guilty of being conspirator to kill him.

BROWN: You have to understand, if you have a relationship and it's always the spouse or the mate is always looked at first. OK, there is no self-defense law in Maryland so being as though nothing could be done to him for what happened and things happen, so his life was taken and I refused to testify.

KING: The puzzling part of this is, how do they prove that?

BROWN: It was purely circumstantial. They had no physical evidence on me at all.

KING: Did the man who did it, is he in jail?

BROWN: Yes, he is.

KING: For life too?

BROWN: He is locked up on other charges.

KING: Are you appealing?

BROWN: Exactly, I am.

KING: What do your lawyers say?

BROWN: Well, I have a very good lawyer and things look hopeful. But only through to the grace of God, it's all up to him.

KING: So what is it like being here for you?

BROWN: It's hard. It's hard for a number of reasons. My main number one reason is I left my daughter out there. When I got locked up, she had just turned four. She is now nine, she'll be 10 in October off this year.

KING: Does she come to see you?


KING: We'll be back and we're going to meet Maria and then later others. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you ever get used to this?

SWICK: No. No. This is not a way to live. This is not a life. This is not it.




KING: OK Maria, we're going to go to 023.

SWICK: 023.

KING: Your crib.

SWICK: This is my crib. Everybody here is double bunked. I'm lower. This is where we live.

KING: Television?

SWICK: Yes, television.

KING: Do you each have a set?

SWICK: We each have a set.

KING: No air conditioning, though.

SWICK: No air conditioning. It's a place to get yourself together. When you're here, you realize, hey, I've done something wrong.

KING: I want out of here.


KING: Before we talk with Maria, Cynthia, you got married in prison. How did you meet your husband?

LEVERING: I met him in the visiting room. He was visiting a friend and had inquired about me and she introduced us.

KING: Was it a girlfriend she was visiting?

LEVERING: No, just a friend. And about seven years later, we had gotten married.

KING: How often do you get to see him?

LEVERING: Once a week.

KING: And there's no gravitation law in Maryland, is it? LEVERING: No.

KING: So what is the marriage like?

LEVERING: He's my best friend. He's morally supportive and he's been a good friend to me.

KING: Is he trying to help you get out?


KING: Interesting.

LEVERING: I hope so.

KING: OK Maria Swick. Maria is serving 15 years for burglary, just been in a year, right, Maria?


KING: What did you burglarize or whom did you burglarize?

SWICK: Many businesses.

KING: Oh, many burglaries?

SWICK: Yes. I have several charges from a drug addiction, had a co-defendant.

KING: Was the co-defendant a man?


KING: How did you do your burglaries?

SWICK: They were mainly businesses and stuff being outside and just pulling up at night and loading up the truck, taking it, selling it, buying drugs, that type of thing.

KING: Did you use a gun?


KING: So you'd break into a business at night and take what?

SWICK: Anything. Tools, four-wheelers, that type of thing, go- cart, anything like that.

KING: Was your partner convicted, too?


KING: Was he into drugs, too?


KING: The decision to burglarize was caused by what? Why did you rob places?

SWICK: Well when you have an addiction, addiction is a very powerful thing. And you will do just about anything to fulfill the next need.

KING: How were you able to come off the drugs while in here. You had no choice, right?

SWICK: You have no choice. That's very hard. I spent the first week of my incarceration sick.

KING: You train a dog here?

SWICK: Yes, I have a dog.

KING: You're allowed dogs?

SWICK: Yes. We have it's called canine partners for life program here. We train them for all different types of disabilities. It's wonderful program.

KING: How do you handle prison?

SWICK: Day-by-day, the best way you can. It's prison. You know, everything, it's a controlled environment. Everything is controlled here. But you make the best of it. You try to keep yourself busy. I just finished up a class I was taking. I was going to school and working and my little dog. You just stay busy and just keep going everyday and everyday.

KING: Do you get time off for good behavior?


KING: So you won't do 15?


KING: If you behave well?

SWICK: If I behave well.

KING: Cynthia said this is -- for prison, this is a pretty nice place. Let's get the opinion of the rest. Is it, Joyce?

WHITE: I would have to agree with Cynthia when she said that because it's prison, it is what it is. And it's like survival of the fittest. I'm here and I have to go along with the program with the activities of working, going to school, finding vocational trades, stuff like that. But, no, I don't like prison at all. It's not a nice place to me and I would like to go home.

KING: Jenene, what's it like for you?

BROWN: No prison is a good prison because it's prison. But despite, it's not as hard as you would think. KING: Not as hard?

BROWN: No. You're not treated as badly as they portray it on TV and things like that. And you still get to live. It's just you're here, you have no --

WHITE: Larry, if you don't mind me saying this, I'm in a cell with a double bunk and a toilet. That is not normal. Normal setting is that the toilet is in the bathroom. The bathroom is normally down the hallway. For me, it's not normal.

KING: I know. In fact we'll show because we went into Maria's cell and the toilet is right there next to you, right? We'll be back, Some more surprises still to come. Don't go away.



FELICIA "SNOOP" PEARSON, "THE WIRE": Yes, man. Man says if you want to shoot clowns, this is the Cadillac.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll go with this right here. How much I owe you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 6.69, plus tax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, you pay at the register.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Man, you handle that for me, man. Keep the rest for your time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is 800 dollars.


KING: We're back with Jennifer Weedon, Joyce White, Cynthia Levering, Jenene Brown and Maria Swick, all inmates here in Maryland. We're joined now by Felicia "Snoop" Pearson. She's the actress who plays Snoop on the hit TV series "The Wire," maybe the toughest series on television. She's lived a life of crime, indeed ended up inside for killing a woman in self-defense. She's also the author of "Grace After Midnight, A Memoir."

Are you playing yourself, Snoop?

PEARSON: No, because, myself, I don't put people in abandoned buildings like I do on "The Wire."

KING: But you had a rough life? PEARSON: I had a rough life. It was OK.

KING: How did you come to kill someone?

PEARSON: At the wrong place at the wrong time, running. I was young. When you're young, you run towards fights.

KING: There was a fight?

PEARSON: There was a fight going on around the corner. I ran all the way around the corner to something I had nothing to do with.

KING: What happened?

PEARSON: Worst day of my life, Larry. A girl tried to hit me with a metal bat. So I ducked. When I was younger, I used to carry guns and all that, you know. I used to carry guns.

KING: You shot her?

PEARSON: Yes, I just shot her.

KING: Did they catch you right there?

PEARSON: No. I was on the run.

KING: They investigated and found you?

PEARSON: Yes. Somebody told on me.

KING: How much prison time did you do?

PEARSON: Six-and-a-half years.

KING: Where?

PEARSON: Right here.

KING: You were in this facility?

PEARSON: Yes, sir.

KING: Did this facility help you?

PEARSON: Yes, it taught me patience. I have a lot of patience and humble yourself. You know how women always cackling, always the mouth. They taught you to deal with that, to ignore it.

KING: How did you get the part on "The Wire?"

PEARSON: Through Michael K. Williams. I met him in a nightclub in downtown Baltimore.

KING: Are you enjoying that show? That's a rough show.

PEARSON: It's OK. I love it. KING: You mean the writing is excellent.


KING: So you're an actress now?

PEARSON: Yes, sir.

KING: You want to do more parts?

PEARSON: Yes, sir.

KING: You want to do films?

PEARSON: Yes, sir. Right now, I'm in the process of getting my book, "Grace After Midnight," turned into a movie.

KING: What do you think of our folks here?

PEARSON: Just they need another chance, man. I was listening. (INAUDIBLE) New vocations, whatever. They just need another chance, man. To look over their cases, man. It's bull crap, excuse my French.

KING: You mean the cases are bull crap?

PEARSON: I'm talking about the time they try to give to them.

KING: Too much time?

PEARSON: They don't deserve it.

KING: Are there moments, Joyce, where you feel bad because you know you killed someone?

WHITE: Yes. I feel bad because --

KING: You did a terrible thing.

WHITE: As I look back, being the person I am today, I would have done it different. I've educated myself. I have skills. I've taken a -- I'm changing. My thinking would have been different 26 years. I probably would have called the police.

PEARSON: She had an illness, you know, she was on drugs. She had an illness.

WHITE: I was a stuffer. I stuffed a lot. Being raped and being battered, being introduced to violence at a very early age, and my mother being battered by my father, that's all I knew. I didn't know -- I didn't know how to talk things out, to go find somebody to talk to. That's just what it was.

KING: Cynthia, I know you don't remember, but if you killed that guy, if you were there, are there moments where you feel bad?

LEVERING: Every single day.

KING: Because since you don't remember, the possibility exists that you could have killed him, right?

LEVERING: Absolutely.

KING: You don't know if you didn't kill him or did kill him.

LEVERING: That is true.

KING: When you think you might have, what's it like for you?

LEVERING: It's hard. It consumes my heart. It's hard.

KING: Do you ever think, Jenene, that while you weren't there, you're responsible for the death? Because the guy beat you and the guy was out to help you, the other member, and he went to kill him. If not for you coming there, he wouldn't have killed him.

BROWN: I'm not responsible for his death. Everybody's responsible for their own actions.

KING: He did it on his own?

BROWN: He did it on his own. It wasn't that I told him. I asked him, he came, none of that. He felt in his heart that he had decided enough is enough. I'm not responsible for that. I'm not responsible for anyone's thinking but my own.

KING: Jennifer, do you ever feel blame?

WEEDON: I don't feel blame because I wasn't expecting it to happen. It was a reaction. I do regret it happening because now, like I said, he's passed and I'll never see him again.

KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


WHITE: I was asked in therapy, am I glad that I killed my victim? I was like, I could never say I've taken somebody's life, but it's because of me that I'm incarcerated for life today.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my little home. This is my personal area, my home. I have my personal, my clothing and my little kitchenette. This is where I keep my family, so at night time, when I lay in bed, I can open this when I'm watching TV and I can look at them. This is what I have in life right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: We're back. Snoop, do you think you're a role model?

PEARSON: I mean, now, right now, because my whole attitude and message is positive. I don't want kids -- that's why I wrote my book, because I don't want kids to make the same mistake that I made and went through the same thing that I've been through.

KING: You think you can help people?

PEARSON: Yes, sir.

KING: How about these people?

PEARSON: They're helping me.

KING: They help you, how?

PEARSON: Joyce, when I was here, she used to talk to me.

KING: You were here with Joyce?

PEARSON: Yes. I was a young juvenile, running crazy in this institution. I don't know, I just thought everything was a game, you know, and Joyce sat there, and a lot of other lifers sat there and talked to me, let me know, this is what you got to do to make it and calm down.

KING: We did a show with Joyce at San Quentin. One of the things we talked about was fights. Male inmates are prone to have fights. Do you have fights in here?


KING: Physical fights?

WHITE: Yes, we do. I don't think it's as bad as the men. When I used to go over to the house of correction, a lot of men, stabbings and stuff. I think women here are more catty. It's more name- calling, more verbal, more scratches. I don't think it's as violent.

KING: What do you miss the most, Maria?

SWICK: Freedom, not being able -- for them to tell us when we wake up, when go to bed, our schedule, just to be able to walk around and be free.

KING: What time do you wake up?

SWICK: About 5:00 am.

KING: Go to sleep at what time?

SWICK: About 10:30 or 11:00.

KING: But you can stay up all night if you want to?

SWICK: You can. You have to have your lights out by a certain time, the TV off.

KING: Jenene, do you miss intimacy? Everybody laughs at that. Do you?

BROWN: Yes. No. I miss my daughter. I'm not worried about intimacy. I miss my family.

KING: Do you miss intimacy, Cynthia?

LEVERING: Absolutely.

KING: You got married.


KING: And you can't have intimacy?

LEVERING: No. We're human. By human nature, being isolated from intimacy is -- you know, you get lonely, and you just need that emotional bond or attachment that's not there.

KING: Some jurisdictions in America permit co-habitation.

LEVERING: They do.

KING: Do you think Maryland should?

LEVERING: I don't think it would hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they should.

KING: Jennifer, what do you think? Do you think you should be allowed to be with a man?

WEEDON: I'm really not concerned about that right now. The man that I love, like I said, he's passed on, so I'm not really --

KING: Do you tune that out?

WEEDON: Pretty much. After being in prison, I've pretty much tuned that out.

KING: You were too young, right?


KING: Come on!

PEARSON: I know what you mean.

KING: When you were in here, how old were you?

PEARSON: I was 15.

KING: Fifteen.

PEARSON: I came here when I was 15.

WHITE: I'm looking forward to getting out of prison and, like I said, have a healthy relationship or companionship or dating because I never really dated. I wasn't in a lot of relationships because of my past, but I like to date and I like to kiss and hug.

KING: Based on your history, it would be nice to have a healthy relationship.

WHITE: It would, very much so.

KING: Traveling new paths for you?


KING: Thank you very much, Snoop. Continued good luck.

PEARSON: Thanks.

KING: Our panel of inmates remains and we will meet the warden of this institution, a fascinating lady in her own rights, Brenda Shell, right after this.


BRENDA SHELL, WARDEN: This is the first level of security, coming through the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. We have several layers of security to come through the checkpoints to ensure that no contraband is coming into the institution.




KING: Warden Shell, where are we?

SHELL: This is the sew shop.

KING: Are women assigned to this or volunteer?

SHELL: They're assigned. Every job in the institution, women are assigned to the job.

KING: What are they making now?

SHELL: Right now, they're actually making the vests that you with facility workers and other state highway workers for safety.

KING: That they wear on the highway.


KING: Do they all know how to sew before this or are they taught how? SHELL: Most of them do not know how to sew when they come in.

KING: They were taught.

SHELL: They are taught to sew.

KING: Are they paid per piece?

SHELL: They're paid throughout the day, a dollar a day.


KING: We're back. And our panel is joined by Brenda Shell. She is the warden here at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, located in Jessup, Maryland. How long have you been warden?

SHELL: About four years.

KING: Give me a sense of this prisoner profile. What's the average age?

SHELL: The average age is 36. As you heard from most of the women on this panel, the pathways that lead them into prison start with abuse, poverty, physical, sexual abuse, self-medication, drug use and then committing crimes and ending up in prison.

KING: What's the ethnic break down?

SHELL: We have about 62 percent African-American and 33 percent Caucasian.

KING: This history of abuse, does this allow you to give them, if not -- does it allow you to give them forgiveness or understanding?

SHELL: I think a large part of doing the incarceration, some of the programs that we offer, such as the emotional awareness and other programs that target the pathways into the prison helps them to come to grip with the crimes that they have committed and the abuse that they have gone through in their lives. That's what helps them to move forward.

KING: Do you get attached to them?

SHELL: Do I get attached to the women?

KING: Do you root for them to win their appeals?

SHELL: Absolutely.

KING: Like to see them get out?

SHELL: Absolutely. I think there should be a lot more done as far as alternative sentencing with most of the women. Most of these women who sit here are victims themselves and they, in turn, have victimized as a result of their life, the realities of their life.

KING: Seems like they've all been victims in a sense.

SHELL: Yes, yes.

KING: Boy, do you like this job?

SHELL: It's -- I think that it's an awesome responsibility that's placed on me to manage this institution, because we're responsible for transforming women's lives. Public safety in the community is dependent upon us properly preparing these women to go home and to be mothers to their children.

KING: This prison goes from minimum to maximum, right?

SHELL: Correct.

KING: So you could have someone who wrote a bad check is in for a year and someone who is in for life for murder?

SHELL: Correct.

KING: Doesn't that make that hard? How does that balance?

SHELL: It is hard to balance. That's the reason why we have to be creative in designing programming and activities to cater to every level and every individual that's in this institution.

KING: Are they kept in separate parts of the institution?

SHELL: For the most part, no. They're mixed together and housed together.

KING: Isn't that a little weird? Do inmates find that weird a murderer to be next to someone who wrote a bad check?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not serial killers. You know, things happen. We're all victims of something. Each circumstance led to this.

KING: So you don't look at it that I'm a violent person and that's not a violent person.

WHITE: We don't point the finger and judge. I think the most, for me, is when I see a lot of females coming back and forth, in and out of prison, and not figuring out what it takes to stay clean and stay out of prison. That bothers me more than the person next door to me.

KING: How high, warden, is the recidivism rate?

SHELL: It's about 48.5 percent.

KING: That's not bad, based on the national average.

SHELL: Not bad, but with the Maryland Correctional Enterprise, with inmates who go through their program, it's much lower. It's about 22 percent. So that's the job skills that they've been provided and the work ethic, these women are going out and being successful.

KING: Like the warden?


KING: You don't have to say yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she's made a great change to our institution and our -- there's a lot of things we didn't have before that we have now because of Warden Shell, like the biggest music program and I'm part of it. We have different programs, people deciding to change, the restart program, which is great for, as far as the young girls coming in.

KING: They have a Girl Scout program?


SHELL: This facility is the national model for the Girl Scouts program, beyond bars.

KING: For the children?

SHELL: Yes, young girls.

KING: How about mental health prisoners. Some of these prisoners should not be here, but should be in the mental institution, do you think?

SHELL: Years ago when they shut down the mental institutions, a lot of male and female came into the correctional system as a result of that. Many of them should not. We have about 35 percent of our population on psychotropic medication.

KING: Thirty five percent.

SHELL: Thirty five percent.

KING: What is the toughest part of your job?

SHELL: The toughest part of my job is to make certain that we are meeting the needs of the population. We want to send these women out better than what they were when they came in. Also, we have challenges as far as society's viewpoint, as to how you manage correctional facilities. A lot of people want people to suffer when they come into correctional institutions. But as managers, we have to make certain that we provide a safe, secure and humane environment for our staff to work in and for our offenders.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, walking away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad. I mean, she was -- we were always together. I don't know, it's hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I go home next month, so it's really good.


KING: Warden Shell, tell me about the Baby Bonding Program.

SHELL: We have a Baby Bonding Program here, where we allow mothers to have their infants brought in after they give birth and they can bring the children in -- the care takers can bring the children in up to 18 months. We do a lot of programming that is surrounded with allowing the mothers to spend time with their children, because statistics show that if we don't keep this relationship between moms and their families also, that they're going to come back and their children are going to end up coming into the system also.

KING: A couple other things, ladies. Maria, is it true that you said you're not ready to get out?

SWICK: Not yet. I know everybody looks at that question and they think, wow. But I think in here you come to a point where you have to rehabilitate yourself, and you know what you need to do to get yourself right. I still have a few things to get right before I'm ready to walk out of these doors.

KING: Wow. A pretty enlightened position.

SWICK: Well, I mean, I don't want to ever have to do this again. So you get it right the first time.

KING: What would you do if you got out tomorrow, Jenene?

BROWN: What would I do if I got out tomorrow. Go straight to get my daughter. That is the only thing I want to do, is just be with her. Just go straight to her school, surprise her and act like we can start all over again, like I was never gone.

KING: What was you do, Cynthia?

LEVERING: I would spend time with my family. I would take a nice, hot bubble bath after I spent time with my family.

KING: Would you go to work?

LEVERING: Absolutely. I would probably be a work-aholic.

KING: Joyce?

WHITE: I would buy a pocket book, a wallet. Being realistic, I just want something feminine. In here, we have sweats. I just want --

KING: You don't have dresses?

WHITE: No dresses, no pocket books, no -- .

KING: What would you do, Jennifer, get out tomorrow?

WEEDON: I would thank first god, first and foremost, for allowing me another chance finally. And I would go see my daughter first and then my mother.

KING: I wish you all the best of luck, Jennifer Weedon, Joyce White, Cynthia Levering, Jenene Brown and Maria Swick. We thank "Snoop" Pearson for being with us. Thank you, warden, for your hospitality and opening up the gates of the prison. Brenda Shell, the warden here at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Maryland.

On behalf of my whole crew, we thank the people involved in this for allowing us to come in and share these moments. And we hope you've been enlightened and informed as well.

Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" is next. Good night.