Families of inmates find solace online

Photo by Special photo

Photo by Special photo

MEIGS, Ga. -- For the better part of two years, after police came and took her husband away, Misty Ezell did little more than sit alone in the rural trailer that had become her prison.

She had a 2-year-old son who had been born prematurely and had to endure a number of operations. And she had a 7-day-old baby girl who now knows her father only through photographs.

Ezell sank into a depression so deep she was taking various kinds of medication just to find the will to take care of her children.

"I spent two years alone in the dark, hiding from the world," Ezell told a visitor. "I didn't want to see anyone because I didn't want them judging me for what my husband had done or what my father had done."

Ezell found solace a short while ago on the Internet through a Facebook page whose tagline -- "free jail and prison T-shirt giveaway" -- caught her eye. Since, she's made "friends" that have allowed her to reconnect with the world as she waits for her husband's 7-year prison sentence to end.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, Ezell, 23, welcomes a visitor to her ramshackle but nicely kept trailer wearing a T-shirt that she says helped change her life. The slogan on the shirt reads, "To you he's just another inmate, but to me he is the world."

It's a shirt designed by "Johnny," the mystery man behind the Jail Clothing Exchange Facebook page that allows family members of prison inmates to connect with others in similar circumstances.

"The people I've met on Facebook have become my second family," Ezell said. "I told my husband about how they'd helped me, and he told me to tell them, 'I don't know who you people are, but I want to thank you.' He's seen how it's changed me."

Ezell's husband, whom she did not want to identify, is serving a seven-year stretch at Dooly State Prison in Unadilla. The circumstances surrounding his incarceration are sketchy, but Ezell said they involved an angry ex-wife and misinformation presented to local law enforcement officials.

"I was on my way back to Florida from Missouri, and I came through here to visit some relatives," Ezell said. "(Her husband) was my cousin's husband's best friend, and he was visiting when I came over. When I first met him, I couldn't stand him. But we finally started talking, and I fell in love.

"We've been together ever since."

A week after the birth of the couple's second child, police came knocking.

"They took our son out of his daddy's lap and put handcuffs on him," Ezell said. "(My husband) told our little boy he'd be back, and (the son) spent the next three nights sleeping by the front door, waiting for his daddy to come home.

"I spent the next few months just crying, falling deeper and deeper into depression. But one thing I would not do is walk away from this man I love. I saw growing up what a broken home does to a family, and I made a vow that when I got married it would be forever. It's hard sometimes, but I tell my husband that when I said 'I do,' I meant it."

Through the Jail Clothing Exchange Facebook wall, Ezell said she's been able to connect with family members of inmates all over the world.

"These are people who understand what I'm going through," she said. "And Johnny is just amazing. No one knows anything about him except that he's in New York, but he offers comfort and support. The best thing he ever told me is 'Everyone does bad things, but only some of them get caught.'

"All of us who communicate on the Facebook page call ourselves 'Johnny's Angels,' and the great thing is that we're always there for each other. I've made a dear friend, Heather, in Gainesville, Fla., and Stephanie is another close friend I call on. I've talked with people from the U.K., from Australia and from all over the United States."

With her husband almost halfway through his prison sentence, Misty Ezell continues to wait. She vows to "start all over" once her man is released from prison. In the meantime, she'll draw support from all her newfound friends.

"I was ashamed to show my face for a long time after my husband was arrested," she said. "I felt like people were staring at me, judging me. But I realize now every family has these issues.

"I'm just going to wait for my husband to come back to us. And I'll stay strong with the help of my friends. These people have meant so much to me; I'll always stay close to them. We'll be Johnny's Angels forever."