Artist Elizabeth Mikotowicz was nearly beaten to death while being pregnant, addicted to drugs by the medical system, then sent to prison where she was regularly humiliated and treated as a slave. In this explosive interview, for the first time ever, Elizabeth shares her phenomenal life story with The World Art News! It is an emotional, at times horrific, and unquestionably inspiring account of one woman’s survival against all odds.
“I was only 20 the first time I was rag-dolled around the room and sent flying backwards smashing the back of my head on a radiator“
You come from Bangor, Maine, United States. Can you tell our readers about your childhood, family, and the environment you grew up in? Were you an artistic child?
I was adopted at two weeks old, from Quincy Illinois; my parents were really great loving people. We lived in NYC until my father got a teaching job at the University of Maine. Their divorce was a bit messy like they all are, but I was never exposed to violence or danger; overall it was a very loving home. I had a great childhood. I loved riding my horse and being in nature. I was definitely more of a tomboy. I always loved music and art, I thrived in all those classes in school and took extra courses when I could. I loved cheering and dancing. I was on an all-star dance team that went to nationals in high school. My step father is a very well-known pianist and as I was growing up he would do shows with performers from all over the world, and they would come stay with us so I was introduced to all kinds of different music and art; it was really inspirational.
Bangor is the home of Steven King, and it is a lot like many of his movies. If you have seen the new IT movie, Derry is just like Bangor with the water tower and the statue of Paul Bunyan and just how the town is set up. Maine has a lot of dark and strange history; I can see how Steven King was so inspired here. It is very rural, which the pharmacy companies targeted with their opioid sales. When they hit our communities, it hit hard.
You were in a very violent relationship. After sustaining brain damage, doctors prescribed you opioids, which led to a serious drug addiction and eventually prison. Can you recall how it all unraveled, what you were thinking and feeling at the time?
I was only 20 the first time I was rag-dolled around the room and sent flying backwards smashing the back of my head on a radiator. About a month later he hit me with a wooden dowel above my right eye. He wanted a cigarette and I said “Get a job then” and he unleashed hell on me. They had to sew the muscle and the skin separately to put me back together, I couldn’t move my right eyebrow for over a year. Since the gash was so close to my eye and brain, the doctors were concerned about infection that could kill me or cause blindness. I found out I was pregnant with my son while I was in the ER for the head injury. I was in shock; I was now pregnant by a man that almost killed me. I tried to refuse the opioids because I didn’t want my baby or me to be addicted. They told me refusing medical advice would result in a report to child protective services, and I was on too small of a dose to get addicted. To make things even worse I started going deaf and blind for moments at a time and even had seizures because of the brain damage.
“They had to sew the muscle and the skin to put me back together”
My daughter was 14 months old and it was becoming abundantly clear that she wasn’t safe with me with the brain damage. I felt helpless, I was in excruciating pain everyday. After I had my son, I started to become addicted. I wasn’t pregnant anymore so I started taking it more often and in bigger quantities. A few years later after several more beatings, he put me in the ER one last time. The police showed up and he ran, then later on came back after he had stolen a car and was out on the fire escape of my friend’s house. I went to the battered women’s shelter for help because I had lost my apartment because of him. The battered women’s shelter turned me away with two beds open and told me my situation was too dangerous and it put the other women in the shelter in danger.
That was rock bottom. I did everything I could and it still wasn’t enough, I had made a deal with my father that if the shelter didn’t help me, I would sign temporary guardianship over to him so my kids could be safe. Drug dealers protected me and gave me places to hide and ways to make money. I eventually spiraled far enough to become a dealer. Since my children were no longer in my custody, I lost health insurance and couldn’t get any kind of medical treatment or proper medication, and I medicated myself.
You’re in prison. Most people can’t imagine what it’s like. Can you describe your experience as a female inmate in the Danbury Federal Correctional Institute? How many years did you spend there, what challenges did you have to overcome, and what life lessons have you learned?
I was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for a nonviolent drug crime. I sat in the county for 16 months before I even got to prison, that was the hardest time. Time slows to a miserable crawl, minutes feel like hours. I was at Alderson FPC for my actual sentence; when I violated probation, they sent me to Danbury for nine months. We all had the same Khaki uniform with steel toed boots. Doing time in the county jail is far worse than prison; in prison you have classes to fill your time and you can go anywhere on the compound during day hours. In county you are in the same pod with nothing to do, they might have AA or bible study for an hour a week.
“I was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison”
The only thing you have to worry about as a female inmate is the guards. I’ve been in the block when they tear gassed a girl in solitary and it comes through the vents and hits us all. It’s terrifying being locked in a cell where you can’t breathe and you weren’t even the one breaking any rules but you still get punished. The guards will toss your cell for fun, ruin your pictures of your family and if you say anything they bring you to the SHU (Special Handling Unit) or use violence, write you up, take away good time. If one inmate makes them angry enough, they will put everyone in solitary. The actions of one will get everyone punished.
Danbury had an awful mold problem, in the showers there was over an inch thick of caked on mold of all colors; that facility caused a lot of health issues for a lot of people. They made sure to cover everything up when they had inspections. Instead of fixing all the health code violations they built an 80 million dollars on a brand-new facility to get more money from taxpayers to pay for more inmates. You are not a person, you are a number to them that provides cheap inmate labor that they contract out to big corporations instead of paying workers minimum wage.
For example, a hospital saved $350,000 having inmates do their laundry instead of hiring workers. Starting jobs in federal prison pays $5.25 a month; you are expected to work 40 hours or more and if you don’t, you lose good time and go to the SHU, which is solitary confinement. In almost every jail facility I have been to, the prison orders food that comes in boxes that say right on the side ‘not for human consumption’, a lot of people end up getting heath issues they never had before coming to jail from the food. You can order food off commissary but everything is marked up usually 400% from prices on the outside.
They don’t provide tampons in most facilities, and they usually never have them on commissary. They have really cheap pads that you need to wear several to get any protection. Once there were no pads anywhere and the female CO (Control Officer) thought it was hilarious, I went to the male guard and told him unless he wanted to deal with women bleeding on everything, he needed to actually provide what we can’t provide for ourselves; he went and brought up more than enough for every bathroom. Some women make their own tampons and end up getting infections.
“You are not a person, you are a number”
Prison really opened my eyes to the systematic racism and corruption we have in our great land of the free with the highest rate of incarceration of any country. America makes up 20% of the global incarceration population when we only make up 5% of the world population. We have more people in prison than entire continents. I learned that this ‘land of the free’ is a dystopian capitalistic nightmare and the suffering of the American people is a trillion dollar industry. From the pharmacy companies to the corrupt politicians to the modern-day slave trade, which is our prison systems.
A benefit of federal prison vs state prison is they have really good programs like RDAP (Residential Drug Abuse Program) because they get a lot more funding. The RDAP program is a yearlong intense drug treatment program that takes a year off your sentence. I did a portion of the Resolve program which is for trauma but I wasn’t there long enough to complete it. These facilities brag about the hairdressing programs and the fireman programs. However, they only have 10 people in the program at a time and it takes years to complete. When you have 1400 inmates and only get 10 inmates through every couple years, you’re not doing anything for the majority of the inmates. It’s the same with most of the classes that actually help people rehabilitate, you have to wait years on waiting lists to actually take them.
Did you become an artist in prison and what inspired you to paint? Do you recall your thoughts about art at that time?
I was always into art, but I got serious about it when I was in prison; it definitely redirected me to it. I realized it was the only way I could control the outcome and always be satisfied. Whether I was painting something horrifying it expressed the ugly parts of life, or if I was creating something beautiful; it was mine to create and express what I wanted. I had always been inspired by the great painters like Van Gogh. Even in his madness and struggles he became immortal through his art. I painted a lot when I was pregnant with my daughter and after she was born. Once my life took a darker turn I didn’t even bother because I was just trying to survive.
“I got serious about it when I was in prison”
After I went to jail, I started drawing and painting again, I also started singing again. I never had the confidence to sing in front of people but I would sing to myself in my cell at night not realizing everyone was listening at Penobscot County Jail. I didn’t realize it but I was singing everyone to sleep, some were even lying by their door to listen. In fact, one of the Guards came in and was like “if you could keep doing that it’d be great, nobody has any issues when you sing at night.” As a result of that I can actually sing in front of people now, I was in the gospel choir in prison as well.
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