When we were little, we used to tell our mama she had good ears. My little sister and I would whisper under the covers in our bed after lights out, and somehow mom could always hear us. She'd tell us to quit talking and go to sleep.
Tomorrow I'm going to pick up my sister from prison. She's been away for 17 years, and until last December I thought she would never come home. I can't wait to drive back to my house, get in bed, and tell each other everything like we used to.
You'd think I had a twin. As kids, my sister and I looked a lot alike. Our mom used to dress us the same. Even as we got older, we wore the same kinds of clothes. We raised our small kids together. We both wanted to style hair for a living. Since she's been gone, a part of me has been missing. A part of me has been locked up for years.
Stephanie was 26 with four small kids when she was sentenced. Even though the judge objected, a mandatory minimum law meant that she got life without the possibility of parole for being "a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder" in a drug conspiracy.
I tried to make being in there easy for her. At first, I wouldn't tell her the bad things. But our father died when she was in there. I tried to hide our dad's sickness from her, and I had to tell her he'd passed. I know she was worried about me having to bury him alone, without her. "From here on," she said, "I want you to promise me that no matter what's going on outside, I want to know the truth."
Stephanie and I have kept each other going. I was the one to tell her that her son was shot and killed in October. I told her that the Sunday before he died, I saw him in the audience at church when I was singing in the choir. I know he got saved that day. She's made peace with it. I've been there since she went inside, and I'm going to be there when she gets out. It's all going to happen for her again – the grieving – when she comes home.
When Stephanie was sentenced, I took her kids into my home and raised them. I am grateful I had the strength to keep pushing on to make sure that her kids got to the prison to visit their mom. She told me horror stories of some of the women in there who didn't have a family outside to help with the kids. It was a rough role, but I thank God for giving me the strength to raise them all. I talked to my sister on the phone last week and joked that once she gets home, I am going to take a month vacation. She said I deserve it.
Even when they said she had a life sentence, I never accepted that. I've been praying and fighting for this day since day one. And the fighting has paid off. Finally, my sister's sentence has been commuted by President Obama.
She has a lot to come home to that she's lost, but we're going to make some happy times. I've lost 17 or 18 years together with her, but we're still young and can enjoy the rest of our lives together. Mom and I are spending all day today baking, and the whole family will be waiting for Stephanie when we pull into the drive way tomorrow.
I just can't wait. I haven't even been sleeping. I woke up this morning, and the first thing I thought was tomorrow is going to be the day. The day she comes home.
All I can say is if you have a sister, hold on to her.
UPDATE - April 17th, 2014
This morning, Stephanie George was released after her 17-year incarceration. She joyfully embraced her sister Wendy outside the prison.