Behind the Face of Criminal Justice in the Chippewa Valley

Facing Incarceration from University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), Incarceration

Stacey Acuña’s Story

My life started out like many others in Wisconsin. I grew up on a farm with my aunt and uncle. Most people are surprised to hear that. We went to church, did chores, and shared everything, especially the one and only bathroom. In the second grade, I moved to Watertown to live with my mom and my stepdad. Two years later, we moved to Fond Du Lac.

My mom and stepdad provided a house and paid the bills, but every day, they would wake up, drink a pot of coffee, start drinking, go to work, then spend the night at the bars afterwards. I went from growing up in the fields to growing up in bars, playing pool and the jukebox, thinking it was normal.
By age twelve, I was smoking cigarettes, and at thirteen, I started drinking and smoking pot. My family had taught me that drinking was normal, and with a mom who was never around, smoking pot was a small price to pay for people who treated me like family. My mom had her own problems going on, so she didn’t really know what was going on with me. My brother and I were on our own and fended for ourselves.

When I was fifteen, I went to live with my dad in Nevada, even though I didn’t really know him. I did not want to move to Chetek, Wisconsin. My mom had left my dad when I was two, and I only had talked to him on birthdays and holidays. I quickly realized that he had his ways, and I had mine. We were like roommates and never really knew each other. Pretty soon after I moved, I seemed to gravitate toward a certain crowd. I started partying and I used meth for the first time. Throughout all the moving and changes in my life, I have learned what life is. It’s just survival. You figure it out. You just do. You manage.

The first time I was in jail, I was eighteen. The second time, I was twenty and pregnant. I was scared, not knowing anything about my rights. If I would have known more about the system, I would’ve fought my charges. They put a fear into you that you feel you don’t have another choice. I thought they were going to take my child or I would end up in prison. So to protect my child, I just took the felony, not realizing how much it would truly affect my future. I would just deal with the upcoming seven years of hell if it meant not losing my kid. The child’s father was abusive toward his other kids and I was not going to leave my future daughter with her father. After getting out, I tried to leave, which led to verbal abuse, and eventually, instances of physical abuse. That’s when I decided to move back to Wisconsin.

After living with my mom, who was now sober, for a while, I moved to Eau Claire and started school at Chippewa Valley Technical College. To handle the stress and finish my assignments, I started doing Adderall. It helped me focus, do homework, and gain something from reading a book instead of feeling like a failure because I couldn’t understand or grasp it. I did not know how to handle school, parenting alone, work, keeping up with bills, all while trying to prove certain people, who did not expect anything of me, wrong. No one ever taught me how to budget my money. I would always spend what I had in my pocket. When I did not have money for my family, I had to figure out ways to get money some other way. If I was broke, I went to what I knew best. Slowly, Adderall got me back into the meth and the dealing world. It was easy and quick, or so I thought.

It only took me three months to lose everything. My house got raided, my kids were taken. My eyes were opened. Since then, it’s been an off and on struggle. I’ll do good for a while, get my kids back, get a house, then self-sabotage and screw up again. I end up in treatment and my kids end up in foster care.

I would get out of jail and try to change. I would work hard and try to get a place, but how does one find money for a security deposit and first month’s rent? You figure out a way and then you’re stuck in that cycle again. It’s a vicious cycle.

On probation, I went from being a user to an abuser to an addict. Again, it was a matter of survival. My probation officer once asked how I was doing. I said, “Great,” just to see her reaction and she believed me. How could she ever think a mother without her children could be feeling great? In my experience, probation officers are usually just there to do their job. It’s sad. If I would’ve had support, maybe I wouldn’t have relapsed so many times. I would be honest with my probation officer, thinking that would help me in the end. It ended up kicking me in the ass because the next time I got in trouble she used it all against me. She wanted to put me in jail. Without questioning me, her first reaction was, “Yep, lock her up.”

Although this may have been normal procedure, she waited two and a half months to see me in jail. She told the judge during a revocation hearing that she was surprised I had not received a child neglect charge, right in front of me. I was not expecting to hear that from someone who was supposed to be helping me. I was always so worried about them taking away my kids that I did everything I could to survive. Anything I ever did was in order to figure out a way to get my kids back, at any cost. While I was in jail, I learned that I had the right to request a new probation officer. Today I am thankful for that piece of information because I was ready to grow and do better in the future. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t learn their rights. Jail seems to be where you learn about the options that others forget to mention.

All I ever wanted to be was the mom who could survive. To do good things for my kids. I want to, but I can’t give them what they deserve. When I watch kids on music shows or dance shows, I get teary-eyed because I wish I could give my kids that opportunity to play music or sports. They may have talent and I want them to have options to experience those possibilities. It’s unfortunate that there is not more programing available for giving my kids the same opportunities as others. I would love nothing more to do that for my kids. Why should they be punished for something they cannot control – me. They have the potential to be great, just like any child. They don’t have to go through what I went through and continue to go through.

We’re all humans, and we all have different struggles. Drug addiction isn’t who I am, it’s something I did. It’s not something I want to be, but it defines every choice I try to make. I’m a caring person, and I’ve experienced good. I have learned from my mistakes. I want to move forward. I always wanted to be a better person and mom, but before, no one had told me I could be.

It’s unfortunate that people can be so quick to judge someone instead of trying to help and lift them up. I am my own worst enemy; we need more people to lift each other up no matter what their poor choices might have been. I did not know how to change, but now I am learning.

I am tired of surviving, I want to simply live.


As told to Sophia T. and Siri S.

This story originally appeared in Behind the Faces of Criminal Justice in the Chippewa Valley, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

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