The Other Side Academy Speaking Portia Louder

The Other Side Academy

Thank you so much for inviting me here tonight.  I feel like I’m back with my people, it’s an honor to be here.  I’m going to tell you a little bit about me, what my life was like before prison, what it’s like now, and then answer some questions, and hopefully we will share a great connection tonight. 

The Other Side Academy

I’m the oldest of seven children. I grew up in a small town in Utah. My younger years were spent partying, but not really getting into drugs until later in life. I was a young mother, I had my first child when I was 17, and had another child by the time22.  My life wasn’t going the way I hoped it would. Then I got into another relationship; relationships were a problem for me. I was driving my son and my daughter home after one of these relationships exploded and my son asked me, “When am I going to get a dad that I can keep.”  I pulled over and cried, then I went home and took a pain pill. It was the first time I used a pain pill to numb my emotional pain instead of for a headache, and I remember thinking: “I don’t know how I ever lived without these, I don’t know why I would ever try.”

That began a long road of addiction for me. I used prescription drugs, and in my later twenties I got into meth, and that took me to a whole other level! Some of you may know that meth comes with a lot of dysfunctional behaviors: the theft, the dishonesty, the pain! 

At that point I was living with my parents and had two young children. I came home late one night after partying, and my son had been waiting for me by the front window. When I walked into the house my mom wasn’t angry, she was disappointed. She had given up on me. She just looked at me and said, “I don’t know how you could do this; I don’t know why your children aren’t enough for you Portia.  I won’t ever understand!” I could see that she was in a place of despair.

I went downstairs that night with my son and curled up in a ball on the floor and cried. My son said, “Mom, what’s wrong!  You’re so beautiful, why don’t you think you’re beautiful?” I was crying and kept saying, “I am the ugliest person! How could I do this!” 

The next day I went and asked for help. That was the first time I understood that I had an addiction, and it was bigger than me. I made it into a 12-step program, and I had a therapist, he was a bishop in the LDS church.  I got a year clean!  I remember thinking when I was trying to get sober, that it seemed like the most impossible, difficult thing that I would ever have to do in my life.

I have learned since never to say, “that’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do” because there’s always something harder waiting for you; It can always get worse!  After the first year I looked at my life and felt peace, and hope.  I started living by correct principles, I started doing my best to be honest, and to keep my word.  things that I didn’t understand, I didn’t understand the basic principles of integrity. You know, when you do what you say you will do, you feel good about yourself.  I started doing those things. I was working for a family members as a photographer, and I married this amazing guy, Chad. He took over as a father to my children, and life got pretty good for us.

It was simple, and it was beautiful! I remember waking up every day and thinking that it was the most important thing not to have that heavy burden, not to feel like everything was going wrong!

I remember asking my dad when I was trying to get sober: “How am I ever going to make this right?” He said, “Just one day at a time, just one day at a time, you do the right thing, keep your word with your kids, keep your word with yourself.”

And I did it!  I remember the sun on my face. I thought: “I am alive! I’m human, I feel good, and I’m happy!”

For four and a half years I stayed sober. I continued to build a good life, and my business grew.  Things get really good when you get sober, and you treat people right. It’s kind of amazing!

Chad and I decided that we would build a home in Highland, Utah. We were living in American fork at the time, and I was working out of our home. We needed more room for the business, and I was pregnant with our first son together.  After I had Jackson, I had a back surgery and I relapsed.

I was ashamed and too weak to go and ask for help.  I felt like I had it under control and I went back to meetings.  I tried, but I just didn’t get real enough with myself and it continued. What I’ve learned about myself is that I like the hustle, you know, I like to make money. I like to put deals together.  It was kind of a perfect storm for me, the real estate market was going wild, my business was going crazy, and I was using pills. My addiction continued to progress, my judgment was crappy, and the FBI started investigating me. 

Looking back at my life, I can see how much better things would have gone if when the feds showed up, I would have just owned my part, regardless of what anyone else was doing. But at that point, I thought: “other people did this, they did that, I’m not that bad, It’s gray, it’s not wrong.”  What I learned later was that real power would come into my life when I owned it, and said, “This is what I did, it was my fault, and it was wrong.” If I owned it, then I could move past it. I know what I did, I don’t care what other people did, what banks, appraisers, or anybody else did. I knew when I started going down that path that it was wrong, something inside me knew, and I also chose to use drugs and numb out, I chose every step of the way. But at that point, I was too scared. I was scared to go to prison, I was scared because I didn’t know what admitting my mistakes was going to do to my identity? Who am I going to be If I have to go to prison? How am I going to leave my kids? I just had every kind of fear! I worried so much about what people thought of me. I have learned that what people think of me is irrelevant, how I feel about myself is what matters!

Eventually, I went into a courtroom to get sentenced.  Up to that point I was operating in a fairly large place of denial. If any of you have been in the courtroom, you know it has the ability to reckon that for you. Right! And for me it was a real shock. To walk to the front of the courtroom by myself, I felt like a lamb going to the slaughter.  I had lawyers tell me, you could do this much time, you could do that much time.  I fired those lawyers because I didn’t want anyone telling me that I was going to do any time. But when I got into that courtroom, I knew the judge was going to give me the maximum sentence. And I deserved it because of the way I acted, and the things I had done.  I was facing zero to seven years in federal prison, and I got seven.

I sat in the front of the room and looked back at my husband and my kids and felt a level of sorrow and pain that I never want to feel again. I thought, “How could I have brought you all here?” It was a place of reckoning for me.  I remember thinking, “I just want to go back to them, and they’re so far away, how can I get back to my family?” I felt that way a lot when I was in prison, I just wanted to get back to my family. I remember the judge and the prosecutor talking about me and I thought, “Who are they talking about? That’s not me!” They’re saying mortgage fraud and money laundering.  I sound like a really bad person. And when they say, “The United States of America versus Portia Louder.” It’s a bit daunting. I don’t know about any of you, whether you’ve been in state or federal court? But I was standing there thinking: “If the United States of America is against me, I’m not sure who’s for me right now.

That was a turning point for me because I was able to realize that with everything else gone, even my children and my husband, I would be okay. I was okay. Something fundamental inside of me would be able to rebuild. For me that’s a connection to God, but it’s also just a knowing that if I start doing the right things, somehow it will turn around. I didn’t know how painful it was going to be, but I knew I could do something I didn’t know I could do before I walked in that courtroom.  I was going to get through it. I also had an experience that connected me to my husband and my children. I was white collar, real estate. So typically, they give you six to eight weeks to self-surrender and get your affairs in order.

The judge told the US marshals, “Let’s shackle her and chain her up and get her out.” My husband stood up and asked the judge if he would not do that. He said, “Will you please give her this time? We need it together for her to be able to prepare to leave.” And the judge listened to him, which is kind of amazing!  He must have some special power. It was so tender to look back at my husband and realize that I had everything important right there, and there was nothing the judge could do to take that from me.

So, we started this journey that was life-changing and painful and beautiful, and I wouldn’t change it; but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My husband dropped me off eight weeks later in Dublin, California, and I spent a year really angry, thinking that I had been done dirty by the government. I can be passive aggressive, I’m not violent, but I’m a good writer, so I would write things that I thought the prison was doing wrong and post them online. The prison didn’t like it, so they transferred me to Waseca, Minnesota.  Minnesota was probably right where I needed to be. I spent my first six months sitting under a tree crying and trying to find peace. I got a job working in an area where I could be in the rec yard often, and I sat under that tree and begged God to take care of my family. 

The reality of what I had done really sunk in!  I looked around and thought, “I’ve got to figure out how to unimprison myself, because I really felt like I was in prison. The truth is, I had imprisoned myself before I even went to prison. But when you get to prison and then you don’t have the phone and all the distractions, you really feel it! I wanted a way out. It took me a couple of years to finally realize that the way out was total responsibility; to own that I was there a hundred percent because I chose to be. It’s so backwards to think that when I own something it’s freedom for me. It’s power for me. I used to think, “If I can make an excuse, if it’s not my fault, then I’m still a good person.” But that isn’t true, so I felt conflicted. The more I thought that the government had done me dirty the worse I felt. I was going to be sitting in my bunk a long time waiting for them to come and apologize. Which was probably not going to happen. It would be a long wait for me to feel free! But if I owned it, and I decided that it was mine, and I chose it, then my future is mine and I can start dreaming again. I can set goals and use that time to visualize a new life for myself.  I think it became most clear to me when my family came to visit.

I hadn’t seen my husband or my children for a year, and when they walked in, my kids were a year older. They were teenagers, and I had a son that had a pretty good-sized chip on his shoulder. I had a daughter who was very depressed, and a husband who was trying really hard to take care of those kids. My heart sank, and I thought somehow some way, I’ve got to tell my kids that I did this, that it’s my fault, because it’s not helping them to think that I am a victim in any way.

I took each of my kids into a room and tried to explain it to them. I asked Jackson if anyone ever talked to him about me being in prison. We live in a community where nobody had parents who had gone to prison. When I asked him if anyone ever talked to him about his mom being in prison? He said, “Nobody would dare talk to me about that mom!” It wasn’t good. And my daughter said, “Mom, you’ve told me so many times things are going to be okay, and I don’t believe anything you say anymore. Things are not going to be okay!  you’re in prison, Dad’s trying to take care of us, and we don’t have enough money to go to sports activities or anything else. It sucks for dad, it sucks for us, I just don’t care, and I don’t want to hear what you have to say.” 

I left that visit and I felt like a hole had opened up inside of me. I just curled up in my bunk and cried.  My bunkie next door said, “God must love you a lot, because you’re on your knees praying all the time.” I was in so much pain. I don’t even know how to describe that pain, but the reality and the truth of what I had done, and where I had brought us was very real.  it was another opportunity for me to decide, yes, it’s painful, but there’s truth here. If I own it, and I accept it, even though it’s hard for my kids, somehow, we can build on this.

I continued on that journey. I wrote my family letters; sometimes they’d open them, and sometimes they wouldn’t. I asked them to tell me how I hurt them, and I admitted the things that I had done. I told my, kids that I was a hundred percent responsible for what happened, and it was painful, but it was empowering.  I had the opportunity while I was in prison to go to a treatment program, but I didn’t have a lot of love for the government at that point.  I thought, “What do they have to teach me? Why would I want to go over to that program?” It was a therapeutic community, similar to what you guys are doing here; but it has the whole added fun of being in prison. When the counselors go home at night, you don’t have staff there. At night I was sleeping with one eye open after holding people accountable and other conflicts.

Girls are codependent, I know guys are too! It’s just how it works, when you don’t have drugs or anything else, what do you do? You get in relationships! When I’m pulling one girl up, I got three other girls ganged up and ready to take me out. It was hard. I remember calling my husband and saying, “I feel like I’m in this massive conspiracy, this is worse than when I was being investigated by the feds.” It was scary, but I made a decision that if I was true to myself, I could rebuild my integrity, and I could leave feeling really good about myself. I did what I thought was right, I was truthful with myself and others, and I felt great when I was done.

I went into treatment early, so I watched people get feedback and I watched how bad it goes when people don’t own their behavior. I would own it, but I would spend a couple of days feeling pretty crappy about it when somebody would hold me accountable. I learned to hold myself accountable. I’d be like, “I did that, it was me!” I’m a control freak, and that way I would have a little more control over it. The program was life changing. I spent time as a leader, and as a participant in the program, and I had so much love for the work we did. I did four years in high security, and then the last six months, when I graduated that program, they sent me to Victorville, California, which is low security.

It was hard! It was hard to go to a camp where everybody’s acting crazy. They just didn’t know how to act right. I was used to a structured environment where we had the ability to call each other out. You don’t do that at a camp. You don’t even have an officer at the camp. There was a lot of passive aggressive communication going on. I remember the first time I saw a girl walk up to the water fountain and look at another girl and say, “I hate your guts. I hope you die.” I was shocked! That would end in a fight at a higher security prison. That’s just not what I was used to. I was used to saying, “It really bothers me when you let all your friends to jump in front of me in the chow hall.” That type of communication. So, it was a little bit of a struggle for me to adjust. I’m grateful I was transferred though, because I was so hardcore and structured that I needed a little bit of time in the camp to prepare to come back. 

I’m home now, and my life is pretty dang amazing. I have so much hope and freedom! My relationships with my children are being restored. It takes time, that’s the thing I’ve learned, anything worth having take’s time. For me, it was not an immediate thing. I wish I could have walked into prison and day one figured out that I needed to take accountability so I wouldn’t have felt like I was in prison. By the end of my prison-sentence it wasn’t prison to me anymore. I figured out how to free myself!  I would sit there on a bench and feel the sun on my face. Somebody new would come in, and I would be so happy to just share that connection with them. I loved the diversity, I loved the different challenges we faced, and I loved the connection that we shared.

That’s something that you guys have here, and it’s something that I love! I work at a treatment center so that I can feel that connection. It wasn’t an easy transition for me.  It still probably isn’t sometimes. I miss my people in prison. This book that I wrote shares other people’s stories and mine as well. I have people read it and say, “You make prison sound charming.” I tell them, “It’s not that prison is charming, it’s just that who I became in prison was more charming than I used to be.” By the end of my time, I liked myself ,and I liked the people that I met there. I learned to see the world from a different perspective. I offend myself when I think about the way I saw the world prior to this experience, I wonder how I could see it like that? I didn’t know the struggles that other people faced.

We’re kind of all warriors; I don’t know if you know that?  I’m probably less so than you because my life has been easier. My parents gave me a pretty good start. They loved me, and I didn’t have some of the challenges that the women I met in prison had. When I found out their struggles, I knew those women were legit. You guys are strong and brave, and I want to learn from you. So, when I say, it’s my honor to be here tonight, it’s my honor. You really are my people. I feel connected to you. We were sitting here before this started and my husband said, “There’s such a good vibe here.” I told him, “That’s the vibe of healing and truth.” It’s the vibe of power that’s going to take you out of here and help you continue to have amazing lives. You’re going to be able to share your stories and keep that connection going.

It won’t be easy, but it is so worth it.  And it gets more beautiful, then it gets different and it again it gets more beautiful. I see that in all of you, and I see that in my friends in prison. I just got a letter from one of my best friends whose in prison, and she got accepted into a college course because of an essay she wrote. I’m so proud of her. The women I met in prison are some of my best friends.  I would say home girls, but I sound funny saying that. But that’s what they are, right. Maybe I don’t quite fit into a high security prison, but you know what? I spend a lot of time there, so I earned my position. Just because I don’t look the part, don’t hold that against me????

I’m grateful to be here tonight. I want to let you know that I think you’re amazing. I think we’re all amazing! We overcome a lot. Just keep up the good fight, be honest with yourself and everybody else, and there’s nothing you can’t do.  I’m going to open it up to questions, or any thoughts that you have, I’d love to hear from you, and we’ll wrap it up.

Thank you so much for your talk. It was really moving for me to hear all your perspectives and how you said you grew as a person and that’s what really helped you.  I just wanted to ask, like, now that you’re free and you are so in touch with people that are in that lifestyle. Do you ever get tempted to relapse or is that just something that now that you changed inside, isn’t a part of you anymore?

That’s a good question.  I do a lot of work to not let that happen. I reached a place when I was in prison, where it became so clear to me. I’m sure if any of you have done some time, you know, you get a lot of time to really think about where you went wrong. And I reached a place where I decided that it’s just too hard to climb out of those places anymore.  I had four and a half years when I relapsed and the depth of pain that I felt when I was in prison, the whole that I felt like I was in financially, spiritually, emotionally on every level. I didn’t just hurt me, but my children, so I reached this place where I thought, “I don’t want to live if I relapse again, like I don’t want to climb out of this anymore.” I was very concerned, because I hadn’t lived sober for a long time, I’d been locked up. So, when I came home, I set a schedule of going to support group meetings. I kind of had a plan, you know, and I was recently telling Chad, that there are times where I worry. I said, “I don’t have any temptation to use drugs. And there’s certainly things I can recall that remind me why I don’t want to use drugs.” One of those things is when I was on the phone with my daughter, and she told me that she was going to be having our first grandchild. My heart hurt so much I thought I wouldn’t survive. How could I not be there for her? When she was a little girl, she went through her mom being an addict, and now she’s taking care of her brothers and sisters and having a baby without her mom. It was excruciating that I couldn’t support her in that way.

I recall those things. there are two or three events that I can look back on and say, “Never again!” No, I don’t crave drugs, but I do a lot of work to make sure that doesn’t happen. I stay engaged in my own treatment, honesty, accountability with myself, with others. And I speak my truth. I continue to serve and show up at a treatment center because it helps me stay engaged in other people’s treatment. You just have to find what works for you, but that’s what works for me. 

Thank you for coming today. Your story really resonates with me. I have a family member that has your exact same story, but he came out and we haven’t heard from him. He was so embarrassed about even coming back to the family. Have you been able to adapt back into your entire family and not run from everybody? Or have you dealt with it?  Like your mom, uncle, you know, just everybody.

You guys have great questions. My family’s not mad at me, but I did a lot of work to reach out to them and ask them to share with me how I hurt them. I sent letters owning up to the things that I needed to get clear. I was talking to my dad recently and he said, “It was easy to get behind you Portia, and get in your corner while you were in prison, because I knew you were doing everything you could to make things right.” That may not be the case for everybody, but for me, my family was cheering me on. That’s something I want to tell you as well. For some reason I thought everyone was cheering me on. I recently talked to another gentleman that was in prison and he told me that’s unusual.

I don’t know why when I was locked up, I thought, “My community’s cheering me on. My kids are cheering me on.” And it was always a shock to me that people weren’t, you know, and I don’t know if that’s just this innate form of optimism for me.  I felt a lot of guilt and shame and pain for the pain I caused or for the suffering I caused others, but I did believe the world was cheering me on and it helped me stay accountable. Whenever things got hard, I would tell myself, “I can’t give up. Everybody believes in me.”  I would suggest if you can imagine that the world is cheering you on, everybody is in your corner, that would be good. They may not know it yet, but they are cheering you on. They’ll figure it out here in the next few years???? Sometimes it just takes time, for real! I know I am blessed because Chad, is very forgiving and very loving and I think he just believed in me. Maybe because I thought everyone was cheering me on it just kind of went that way.  I just believed that I could do it and people kind of got behind that. I think the same for you, you know, people are cheering you on, I’m cheering you on.

I want you to know that your story means a lot. And I think that you need to tell it more, cause this is salt Lake city, Utah. They call it the happy Valley, and we lead a country in overdoses for opiates.  So, I think, you should actually tell your story as much as you can. It’s really inspiring. Thank you.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

Thank you for coming out. And I was just wondering what kind of advice do you have for us to try to stay on track and not go back to our old lives? 

Advise! Whoa, I’m here to learn from you guys. I guess I would say that something that’s helped me a lot is just to come to know who I am, to value myself.  I made the decision when I was in treatment to work on me. And I realized that might’ve been the first time in my life that I had done that since I was a kid. Cause I started getting into those crazy unhealthy relationships when I was young. So, I just decided that even though I have kids and a husband at home, this is all about me and I’m going to just get myself healthy. If everyone here decides, I am so going to take this time for me a hundred percent your life will change! I knew the only thing I was going to take with me out of prison was who I became. That was it.  But who I became was everything, because who I became was building a foundation to attract the rest of the things I wanted in my future? And it isn’t as quick as you would like, I mean, I have goals, and I started dreaming after I owned my life. I was able to make a list of things and visualize them, and I write them every morning still.  got excited because I had time to do it. But when you get out, just know that things that are really worth having take time, you know, maybe the right career takes two years, the right relationship takes three, get yourself, right. Everything else will fall into place.

Any other questions? 

Yes. I just wanted to thank you. I needed to hear a lot of the things you said. And I think it really resonates that, um, you know, regardless of what relationships are, what we have out there that we need to work on ourselves. And I just, I really needed to hear that. And I just want to thank you for sharing your story.

Thank you,

Portia. Thank you. It was an honor meeting you a number of months back and thank you for accepting the invitation to come and speak. You nailed it. You speak our language. You said so many things that we say to them, time and time again, but just that the connection is real and as open and as vulnerable as you were. Thank you. I really appreciate you and Chad, I want to thank you for the man that you are because a lot of men, smaller than you in character and heart and spirit would have run, or collapsed, but you stood by her side. And that says a lot about who you are as a man. So good on you. Portia, on behalf of the TOSA family, which by the way, you’re a part of now. We’re going to present you with this plaque. Everything you said resonated with all of us, because you’ve come from where we are, and you’ve made it to where we want to be. And thank you so much for coming.