New memoir shares mother’s spiritual journey following daughter’s incarceration
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Poignant new work highlights struggle to maintain faith in heart-wrenching situations
Ten years after her daughter was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in a murder-for-hire case, Bonnie S. Hirst is sharing her family’s story for the first time. She Writes Press will publish “Test of Faith: Surviving My Daughter’s Life Sentence” on Sept. 24, 2019.
Hirst is a woman of faith who has always believed that everything in life works out for the best. So, when her daughter, Lacey, was accused of a terrible crime, Hirst was convinced that God would protect her family from harm. But when Lacey was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Hirst questioned every aspect of her existence – her beliefs, her role as a mother, and the purpose behind the events that tore her family apart.
In “Test of Faith,” Hirst shares the story of her family as they navigated the labyrinth of the legal system. She struggled with the façade of being okay on the outside and screaming for air on the inside. And it also shares her spiritual journey, discovering the rewards that come from asking for help and the blessings that exist even in the most heart-wrenching circumstances. You just need to keep your heart open enough to receive them.
“A friend shared this quote and it guides my life currently: ‘One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome a difficult path in life, and it will be become a part of someone else’s survival guide,’” Hirst says. “The highest compliment I can imagine for my book is that it becomes a guidepost for others going through desperation.”
Bonnie S. Hirst is the author of “Test of Faith: Surviving My Daughter’s Life Sentence” (She Writes Press, Sept. 24, 2019). She loves feel-good movies and stories with happy endings. After a 35-year hiatus from writing during which time she was busy being a mom and grandma, she is enjoying connecting with other writers. When life tries to shorten her stride, she prays, cries, talks with her guardian angels, reads self-help books, and writes. She can often be found kayaking on a calm mountain lake. For more, visit http://bonnieshirst.com/.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“Test of Faith: Surviving My Daughter’s Life Sentence”
Bonnie S. Hirst | Sept. 24, 2019 | She Writes Press
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-63152-594-0 | Price: $16.95
In an interview, BONNIE S. HIRST can discuss:
* How she maintained faith even in the most difficult situations
* The importance of asking for help and accepting the blessings that arise
* Being thankful for all positive outcomes (even the tiniest ones)
* Seeking the calming effect and silent messages nature provides
* The effects of family trauma on marriage
* Returning to writing after a 35-year hiatus
* Dealing with mom-guilt
* What it’s like to have a child in prison
* How writing her story helped heal her heart
* How sharing her journey is connecting her with others in similar situations
An Interview with BONNIE S. HIRST
Briefly introduce us to your daughter, Lacey.
Growing up, Lacey enjoyed all things that involved family and friends, like camping, fishing, boating, riding dirt bikes, and downhill skiing. As a teenager, she worked in our drive-in restaurant and purchased her own Isuzu pickup at 16. She had an excellent work ethic and enjoyed her independence. Family ties were extremely important to her and she was the one that always reminded me of important dates that were soon approaching. Whether it was a birthday, Valentines, the Fourth of July, or Christmas, she always had a celebration in the works.
What can you tell us about the day your daughter was sentenced to life in prison?
November 16, 2010 was a dark day for our family. I woke up that morning, still hopeful that God would answer my prayers and Lacey would be found not guilty. When the guilty verdict was announced, and I watched my handcuffed daughter being escorted to a waiting squad car, I was in disbelief. I felt betrayed by God. Had I not prayed correctly?
Do you stay in touch with your daughter in prison?
The Washington State Prison system has what I call a “jail email” that Lacey and I communicate on. She also has access to phone calls and snail mail. These methods are all monitored of course. I try to visit her in person several times a year. She is incarcerated 300 miles from home, so it’s a 12-hour roundtrip drive for a three-hour visit.
The 10-year anniversary of Lacey’s arrest passed on March 31, 2019. What does that day mean to you?
That was the day my ordered world fell apart. It took a year and a half before her case went to trial. I don’t commemorate her arrest date or her conviction date, but when she calls and is down about the years passing her by, I can sympathize with her. I have a tendency to want to forget those dates and celebrate good things instead. Similar to how I choose not to memorialize the dates my parents died. It’s the same feeling.
You’re a positive and hopeful person – was your faith challenged when your daughter was incarcerated? How so? And how did you overcome those challenges?
I always prayed and believed that the highest good would come about in Lacey’s case. When she was convicted, I felt like my entire body had been bludgeoned by a massive club. My entire belief system was put in question. How could the God I believed in my entire life allow this to happen? I descended into depression. I kept praying, but I really didn’t believe God was listening. I journaled to try to make sense of my life. Lacey’s two pre-teen children came to live with my husband Ron and me about six months after her incarceration. That was a pure blessing. I had to function, at least for their sake.
In your book, you discuss the guilt you felt when you couldn’t help your daughter, Lacey. How did you experience and overcome that guilt?
As most moms do when our children fail at something, we point that mom-guilt finger back to ourselves. Lacey was 35 when she was arrested, but I still felt I had let her down. We should have lawyered up sooner. I should have realized how dire her situation was. We had never been involved with the justice system before, and we were naïve in our assumptions. I should have done more research…and the list goes on. Once one is entangled in the cogs of the legal system, it’s like drowning in quicksand. There seems to be no escape.
How did you get back into writing after taking a 35-year hiatus? What brought you back to the page? Was your process different after taking a hiatus? Did you have a different relationship with writing?
Three years after Lacey was sent to prison, I was searching for a meaning to my life. I attended a dream building seminar and connected to my inner child through exercises during the three-day event. One questionnaire asked, “What was a childhood dream?” My answer was, “To be a writer.” In 1980 I had written a romance novel and had even sent it off the Harlequin Books and Silhouette. The rejection letters I received—and life, I suppose—had stopped me writing halfway into my second novel. My writing process back then was fun! I could choose how the story would end.
When I started writing my story about Lacey’s conviction, my heart broke time and time again. Recording those memories on paper, I went into a trance-like state. I’d write two or three pages, often crying while writing. Days later, when I’d look back on my handwritten words, the sentences seemed to come from a deeper well than my conscious mind wanted to acknowledge. Sometimes I printed meticulously, sometimes my cursive would be jerky and small, and other times, large and loopy. My soul seemed to be purging itself of bad memories. Recording them allowed me to heal as I wrote.
So much of your book is about learning to ask for help. What advice do you have for people who are hesitant to reach out, whether because of fear, shame, guilt or other reasons?
I have never been willing to ask for help from anyone. To ask for help would announce that I wasn’t capable or intelligent enough to solve the problem. I love to research and if I don’t know something, I dive into self-help books about the subject. Lacey’s legal situation was not within my realm of knowledge. I felt inept and helpless. Through prayer, I was led to ask our friends to join us on the court benches whenever Lacey had a pre-trial hearing. I referred to them as “our bubble.” Their willingness to show up for us was life changing. By asking for help and allowing others to see my vulnerability became one of the largest blessings I would receive during that time.
What advice do you have for friends and family with incarcerated loved ones?
Write letters often. Most people don’t know what to say. They feel ashamed to share that they took a vacation, or any happy event in their life for fear the incarcerated individual would become sad since they aren’t able to enjoy those things. My daughter appreciates receiving anything in the mail. It means someone thought of her and included her in their day. Purchase books through a commercial online retailer. Each state has their own guidelines of what books they will accept. Put money on their prison spending account for them to purchase stamps, envelopes, etc. Share pictures of home, family, trips, etc.
Has Lacey read your book? What does she think of it?
When I first started writing about Lacey’s incarceration, I kept it from her. I wasn’t sure how she would respond. When I realized my pages would become a book, I told her, and she said she was relieved! She had worried about my state of mind after her conviction, (I was a depressed basket case) and she was glad I was dealing with it by writing. The first time I shared my pages with her I was worried how she would respond. She said she cried throughout most of her reading, but that she was proud of me for forging ahead with the project. She and her cellmate became my beta readers and Lacey helped me fine tune some of the details.