Family Visit 3: Christmas

I cannot stop thinking about our time together. Sometimes it feels as if I am not even here; I am still with my wife, away from this place. When we are together at Family Visit I let go of this place, I’m so relaxed and completely at ease. Just my wife and me, no worries, nothing to weigh me down. Our time together is pure magic. I always feel my best when I am with you. And not just by a little. When I am with you it feels like all the broken pieces are fixed and put back together. I feel whole, peaceful, safe and loved.” -Sean,

Our third Family Visit began on December 20 with wild rain and wind. I pushed the cart into the Family Visiting unit, sopping wet and shivering, to find my husband who wrapped me in a hug. “My precious wife” he said.  It was a crazy but welcoming beginning to our time together. Mere hours later it was sunny and beautiful.  Even thought the sun shone brightly the weather was much colder this time around, rain water that had collected in the tetherball stand froze into thick ice overnight. We went outside in the morning to touch it, the grass blades and clovers were frozen with sparkling frost. Our version of winter in Corcoran.

There wasn’t just one single moment that stood out to me from the time we shared; roughly 46 hours for Family Visit and 3 days of regular visit. We really enjoyed playing the new board games they had: Scattergories, Headbandz, and Pictionary. Those games had us cracking up, we laughed so hard for hours on end. It was also nice to curl up and watch a movie together. Sean thought the little girl from Despicable Me 3 was so funny, I loved hearing him laugh and seeing his reactions. There were a few scenes where all the minions were in prison but they worked together to escape on a flying balloon craft made from prison uniforms, we liked that. It is nice to laugh and do normal things together.

We bundled up to go outside and watch the sunset, something we try to do each time we are at Family Visit. It was a lovely one, with pretty colors and clouds. We stood at the fence topped with barbed wire watching the colors shift and it hit me pretty hard. “You only ever see the world through these fences.” I said. He nodded. Hopefully for not much longer. Later on after the midnight count we went back out so he could show me Orion’s belt in the clear night sky. Sean said he never sees that many stars there at Corcoran, so it was special.

We enjoy cooking together, we have it all figured out pretty well now. Despite the food package catalog being pretty limited we managed to figure out how to make some very good meals. I love to sit at the table with my husband in the morning sipping hot tea in our jammies. It’s the best. We like to have the music from the TV on and we like to dance and sing. In these moments together we feel most alive.

Married life suits us in a way we never imagined. We are both grateful for these Family Visits and for the love we share, we draw strength from it daily and hold these moments dear in our hearts until the next time.

Pictures from Christmas 2017 at visiting, the officer on our yard was kind enough to decorate this year


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A 15-Minute Phone Call

From October 30th to November 17th, 2017 we had no phone calls due to a prison-wide state-ordered search of Corcoran State Prison. The entire prison was put on lockdown for 18 days in order for this surprise search to be completed. The following was written by Sean during this period.

“In today’s modern society with so many advancements in technology and instant communication, many people may not understand the pain of being denied something as simple as a phone call. In the real world there are so many forms of communication, many of them are instant. And if those fail you can always just go see someone. We do not have these options in prison.

All we have to communicate with our loved ones from inside these prison walls of concrete and steel is a 15-minute long phone call and snail mail. Here traditional mail only goes out 5 days a week and takes about 4 days to reach home. Any response takes a week or more before being delivered to my cell door because first it must be processed by the prison mail room. Receiving a response to traditional mail easily takes two weeks which brings me back to the 15-minute long phone call.

In prison the 15-minute phone call is our life-line to the free world and those we love. In a building of 200 men there are only 4 phones to share; every available phone time on the sign-up sheet is always taken. Men in prison thirst for communication with their loved ones. It gives us strength, hope, and much needed love. In the cold, hard environment of prison, love from family is often the only light we see.

To be denied this light, this connection to the love that holds me up, can be excruciatingly painful. The longer I am denied, the deeper the pain cuts, the further it sets in, and the more harm it inflicts.

Currently CSP-Corcoran is on lockdown for a “mass institutional search”. The administration calls it a “modified program” to justify it but it is a lock down. During this lockdown we (the inmates) are denied all of our earned privileges. And while many in society may feel those of us in prison don’t deserve any privileges; one: they don’t realize how sad and basic those few privileges are and two: these few privileges are a key tool in behavior management within these walls. When they are stripped away without any justification or cause, it is hard for those of us in prison who are behaving to understand and accept; especially being denied communication with our families. When nothing bad happened why are we being punished? When I am behaving like I should, why are they taking away the only thing keeping me alive?

It has been 9 days since I last heard my wife’s voice. 9 days since I have been able to tell her I love her and ask how she is. It could easily be another 5 days that I must wait before getting a letter from her written the day before the lockdown began. There is no way of knowing when this lockdown will be over. It could be another 9 days or even longer. All I am able to do is worry about my wife. Such isolation eats at the soul, the pain is even worse knowing the woman I love is suffering too. I may be the one in a physical prison but we are truly in prison together. We are both denied each other and the freedom to simply know we are both safe and doing ok.

In the darkest hardest times all we have is the promise of our love.”

written by Sean O’Brien

“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” Psalms 119:50

November 12, 2017:  I went for an unplanned visit due to the lack of phone calls
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Family Visit 2: Chocolate Chip Cookies!

At Corcoran State Prison those participating in Family Visits must order all of their food for the visit from a package company called Walkenhorsts. This is a pretty limited catalog that includes very basic pre-packaged processed foods at a high price. They offer unhealthy foods, hardly anything nutritionally beneficial. After digging through the online catalog for ideas and thoroughly searching for ways to cook good meals and come up with recipes for our Family Visits, among other things, I found the Betty Crocker chocolate chip muffin mix and quickly formulated a plan to make this into chocolate chip cookies instead. Now for those of you who know me, you know I don’t eat gluten and I rarely consume processed sugar so this was going to be a special rare treat for both of us. Mainly, I wanted to make something Sean would remember from before, something that would taste like freedom. And when I first mentioned my idea he had teared up at just the very thought!

In November at our second Family Visit we successfully made chocolate chip cookies. We used an egg and a stick of butter from the fresh foods options bought from the prison on the day of visiting, Betty Crocker muffin mix and sugar from the package catalog, as well as a tiny package of salt obtained from the visiting room beforehand. Our plan worked! I was even able to bring in parchment paper to bake the cookies on. We were pretty proud of ourselves for this creative culinary exploration. Sean said it was the first time he had eaten fresh baked cookies in over 14 years. Seeing him enjoy the cookies was priceless, he became sort of a perfectionist about how long he baked them, he wanted them extra gooey; never crispy or crunchy.  We separated the dough into bowls for each day so that we could bake them fresh each time and enjoy them together.

We had made a plan that on the last morning we would stay up together after the last ‘count’ which was at 5 am. This way we would get to spend the last 3-4 hours together, instead of sleeping and then rushing to wake up, pack then have to say goodbye. We wanted to savor these last moments together.

So after two blissful days together on the last morning after another long night of waking for the counts, we got out of bed at 5 am. This was no easy task as neither of us is a morning-person. We took a long hot shower to wake us up and then Sean set about baking the very last batch of cookies. He boiled water for our tea and scrambled the last of the eggs for me in order to send me off with some protein to get me through my long drive home. I’ve never been a big egg fan but I absolutely love Sean’s scrambled eggs. Something about the way he makes them is different.

At 6 am the smell of freshly baked cookies was inviting, it wrapped us in it’s happy hug. We sipped our tea and indulged in the soft gooey cookies.  It was still completely dark outside but there we were at the table cozy together eating chocolate chip cookies. This special experience was absolutely incredible and the feelings are nearly indescribable so I wont even begin to make an attempt. It will always stand out in our memories; our last moments together this time around were peaceful and sweet.  There is nothing like the taste of a perfectly baked cookie that just melts in your mouth and makes you feel good inside but it’s even better when shared with the one you love. I think we are both still smiling.

“For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” Psalms 107:9

**Note: photos not from actual Family Visit**
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For the Record, Prison Sucks

There is nothing even remotely good about prison. It is an awful place; worse than your imagination, worse than on TV and movies. It is not a place anyone should ever be or want to be. It’s not special or romantic or positive in any way.  It’s not a right of passage or normal in any way, I know there are some people who see it that way and that is something we cannot ever understand. There is nothing normal about prison. It is a terribly abnormal situation in which one must quickly adapt and learn to survive. One should be afraid to go there, one should want to avoid any involvement with law enforcement or the department of rehabilitation. If you see an officer you should run for your life.

I only go to the prison because of Sean and he did not choose to go there over 14 years ago. Unlike most of the men there, he did not commit the crime for which he is charged.  Our time together there is only ever ‘good’ because we get to be together but of course we always wish we were somewhere else. Anywhere else. However, if we chose to write about all the horrible things that happen because of the prison nobody would  be interested in reading it because it would make for crummy, depressing writing. We choose to focus on the good things for our own wellbeing. And honestly if we got worked up over everything that they did to us that wasn’t right or wasn’t fair, every bad emotion that they ever made us feel, we would not be able function because it happens literally every day! So in order to survive we have to focus on the positive, you would too if you were stuck living in hell.

A person who has never had a loved one in prison can never fathom what it is to be a trapped inside such a corrupt, evil system. Aside from a small handful of officers who are actually pretty OK,  they all seem to be hating every second of their job and act like it’s their duty to make visitors feel as uncomfortable as possible in hope that they never return. They are cold, cruel, unfeeling monsters. Those in charge lie through their teeth to make things seem OK to the outside. But the truth is that they do not care about making positive changes, having things be fair, or even following their own written regulations. Everything they do is for profit and promotion.

Prison is no joke.  It’s not something to be proud of, it’s not a badge of honor as other people seem to think in some cultures. We are not those type of people. Prison will change you fundamentally as a person. Prison will make you hard where you were once vulnerable. It will take everything you have if you allow it, I’ve seen it with my own eyes more than once. Prison will take what you value most and hold it hostage over you and use it against you.  Prison will drive you to the brink of insanity and tear your family apart if you allow it to. It will suck the life out of you and break you if you’re not strong. 

Sean and I can’t wait till he is home an we can live our life the way we want to. We discuss it often.  But until then this is what our life looks like and so we are going to make the best of it. God bless.

GPS coordinates of Corcoran, a wedding gift from my bosses

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13

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Our First Family Visit: Live Like You Were Dying

Sarah Boisen, photo

Sean and I finally had our first Family Visit. It was what we have been hoping for and talking about for over 4 years. When we first got together in 2013 Family Visit wasn’t even a possibility for those with Life Sentences, but luckily for us things have recently changed. February 17 2017, days after we signed our wedding papers, came the law bringing back Family Visits for Lifers. We had already planned to get married and this was the best wedding gift we could have asked for.

I went into the belly of the beast (Corcoran Prison) the morning of October 11 and it spit me back out first thing in the morning on October 13. We spent the entire time together, no officers, no restrictions other than the Family Visit guidelines.  It was our first time together just us. We were put into what looked like an apartment with a small front yard that locked us in completely. There was a living room with a couch, clock radio and a TV, a kitchen with just the basics, a bathroom, two bedrooms, and lots of windows.  We were in heaven.

On our 2 month wedding anniversary, October 12, we woke up together for the first time ever. It felt like a dream. The chilly ‘counts’ from the early morning now behind us, we lingered in the warmth of the bed soaking in the new-ness of this experience. When we got up we worked on making breakfast.

We had created a menu beforehand and ordered all our food through a package company. The prison had only given us one large cooking pot and one small sauce pan, one mixing bowl and two big cooking utensils, so we figured out the dynamics of  cooking together with these limited items. I boiled water for our tea, Sean washed the dishes before we used them to make sure they were clean. I can still see him in the blue plaid PJ pants and white t-shirt, it all felt so normal. I cracked the eggs and poured them into the small sauce pan. Sean worked on cooking them while I prepared the French toast. He shined with happiness, finally getting to cook something after 14 years of prison.

I remember Sean wrapping his arms around me as I stood at the stove with the spoon in my hand, French toast nestled into the bottom of the big cooking pot, bacon sizzling in the smaller one. (Pre-packaged pre-cooked bacon, but bacon none the less!) “My wife is beautiful when she cooks.” he said. We couldn’t stop smiling, reminding each other that this was real.

We down sat at the table with sunlight streaming in through the windows. I watched the delight on his face as he took the first bites of his breakfast. It was the second “real cooked meal” he had in 14 years; the first had been the dinner we cooked together the previous night. He devoured his breakfast and wanted more; I was happy to cook again because it felt so good. It felt right.

“Will you be my wife forever?” he asked me as we made breakfast for the second time. “Of course” I answered. I have never felt happier. We both agreed it was the best day of our lives besides our wedding day.

Later, a familiar song came on the radio and I called Sean over excitedly. We faced each other to slow dance like we had been the previous day and when the lyrics started we both began to sing. We both knew every word to Tim McGraw’s ‘Live Like You Were Dying’. It was such a special moment and we have both said since then that we will always treasure it. It is meaningful to us. We experienced the most freedom we have ever had together, the most freedom he has had in over 14 years. The best thing to do was embrace it and literally live as if we will never get to do it again. To make every moment count.

Sean’s note says: In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Ephesians 5:28Sean’s doodle of us at Family Visit looking at the moon.


**Top photo not actually from Family Visit**
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Then Comes Marriage

In February 2017 Sean & I began the marriage application process through Corcoran state prison. What we assumed would be a fairly  straightforward process turned out to be a complicated ordeal with the marriage coordinator at Corcoran  not doing her job correctly and withholding our paperwork and money orders in order to delay our process. We had started out with the date June 3 in mind, but we weren’t even given a date until the beginning of July. We had no idea it would be such a huge battle just to get something that on the outside would be a fairly simple and enjoyable task.  It literally took about 6 months from start to finish.

We were given the date August 12, 2017. It wasn’t the date we had originally hoped for but this is what I found online: The number 12 is a combination of the numbers 1, which means, “Stay positive,” and 2, which means, “Keep the faith.” Together, 12 is a strong message to stay positive, optimistic, and filled with faith . . . because your positive thoughts and faith will create a positive outcome. The number 12 can be found 187 places in God’s word and is considered to be a perfect number. We felt like it was meant to be, another important part of our amazing journey.

Sean’s ring


Emelia’s ring

Our marriage ceremony was on August 12, 2017. It was more beautiful and meaningful than we could have imagined,  for being in a prison. We were able to have a few friends from the inside attend just for the ceremony. We each tearfully read our own vows we had written. It was really an incredible moment, one we will never forget. We are grateful for this step in our life together.

There is no perfect marriage, just two people who refuse to give up on each other

“And now these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 COR 13:13

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Court Timeline: UPDATED (5/5/18)

Our Court Timeline:

-January 17-18th, 2017  Evidentiary Hearing in Sacramento ✔

-February 17, 2017: Transcripts from the Evidentiary Hearing obtained ✔

-March 17, 2017: Nickerson (Sean’s lawyer) filed post Evidentiary Hearing brief ✔

-May 22nd, Extended to July 21, Extended AGAIN to August 10, 2017: Attorney General filed brief in response✔

– September 17, 2017: Nickerson filed brief in response✔

– Magistrate makes final ruling

We expect a ruling any day now, and it is in our prayers daily. It has been WELL OVER ONE YEAR since the Evidentiary Hearing!  It shows how slowly those wheels of “justice” turn…are they even turning at all?! What a messed up injustice system we have here in the US.  We never imagined it was possible we could be stuck waiting for over a year. We have been told by outside sources who are familiar with the legal system that the delay is actually a good sign, meaning if she were going to rule against us she would have done so right away. It is harder and more lengthy to write the final decision to over turn his case so that it cannot be appealed than to deny him. Let’s pray for good things to happen soon. Thank you to those who are keeping Sean’s case in their thoughts and prayers. God bless.


This delay hurt more than the first one did. It felt like we were sitting in a boat being pulled slowly along by a teeny tiny thread and today the thread broke. Now I am just hoping to be carried along by the current to shore.

People always say that inmates are the ones who have no concern for others and that they don’t care about other people. Well that’s wrong, it’s the prosecutors, the AG, and the judge who doesn’t care. They don’t care that my family is hurting. 

This hurts but I pray to God that He hears our prayers. I know we proved everything we needed to and more at the Evidentiary Hearing and that legally speaking we will win.” -Sean, July 21, 2017


(late July 2017) I have a friend who’s aunt works with Centurion Ministries, a non-profit that works to free the wrongly convicted. Right before the Evidentiary Hearing she told me it might take up to 6 months to get Sean home once the EH was over. I was devastated, the idea of waiting 6 more months was absolutely crushing to me. Now here we are, more than 6 months after the Evidentiary Hearing and nowhere close to getting a ruling from the judge. We are simply stuck, unable to even move forward with the court stuff because this Attorney General  wants to hold out for as long as he possibly can just because he knows he is about to lose. He knows he is about to go down for everything that was done to Sean. Making him wait longer just adds insult to injury, as if 14 years isn’t long enough already. -Emelia




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