I first met Laurie Bembenek in the late 1980s while she was serving a life sentence for killing her husbands’ ex-wife. The former Playboy cocktail waitress, and Milwaukee Police officer maintained her innocence her entire life, claiming she was framed for filing an EEOC complaint against the MPD. She was convicted in what was called the most circumstantial case in the history of Wisconsin. She escaped not long after I wrote a series of articles for the Shepherd Express questioning her conviction and uncovering evidence along with private detective Ira Robins that was later used to help her negotiate a plea deal, which led to her eventual freedom. She died of liver disease Nov. 20, 2010. In my files, I found one of her unpublished poems she mailed to me about life at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Wisconsin. She loved to read; she loved to write and she loved freedom – something she never captured in life even after being released — Timothy W. Maier
Laurie Bembenek (1958-2010)
October 23, 1987
It now takes more than one hand
To count all the birthdays I’ve spent here.
Waiting in a dark office one cold morning
I glanced up at tree branches outside
noticing that already they look like veins
I can no longer live like this.
You would think
that after years of being subjected to so
degradation and intrusion, after being
stripped-searched while menstruating
(to the obvious delight of two lesbian guards)
after being forced to use the toilet
in front of many strangers,
after being seized in the middle of the night
to shovel snow or to urinate into a cup
after year upon year of sensory
of being mental sodomy
of being harassed
threatened and interrogated
you would think that the small punishments could be ignored
when we are loudly warned,
not to let a visitor kiss us again,
when we are ordered to do meaningless
work and then to lose 2 days pay for being late,
when we are helplessly moved from place to place,
when we are denied a package of cookies from home;
but this deathless oppression only grows
becomes more unbearable.
I am tired of wondering
how many fascist assholes read my letters
(and then wonder if they will
reach their destination
of being monitored by cameras,
deprived of sex
ruled by a lack of alternatives and the
sounds of belts, keys and walkie-
I can no longer watch the children
Outside the fence crying: “But Mommy
I don’t want to say good-bye.”
I have no children but I feel like that
I look quickly away
from the red-eyed women. I
don’t want to see anymore.
I can’t stand the paranoia, the worry and despair.
Sometimes of late
It feels as though I could explode
Hurt then They would win.
I would only trade my poignant reality
For psychotropic drugs and paper gowns.
So I gather up another armful of resistance
and go on,