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In 1990, 37-year-old nurse Ginny LeFever was convicted of murder after her husband committed suicide on the eve of their divorce. She spent 22 years in prison before her conviction was vacated and she was released. Today, she works as a nurse in an extended care facility in Ohio currently in lockdown due to the pandemic. I reached out to Ginny to learn how her experience of wrongful imprisonment has informed her work caring for the vulnerable, and uniquely prepared her for this time of crisis.

Amanda Knox

Thanks for getting on today with me.

Ginny LeFever

Oh, you’re welcome. I had a three day weekend off after working three 14-hour days in a row. It’s time to crash and burn.

Amanda Knox

That sounds rough.

Ginny LeFever 

It is. And I’m 68 and a half years old.

Amanda Knox 

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Ginny LeFever  

I was born and raised in Ohio. I became a registered nurse in 1980. And I was on the fast track, doing critical care, getting my bachelor’s, all of that. And then my soon-to-be-ex-husband died of an overdose. That’s when the wheels came off the bus and I ended up spending 22 years as a guest of the state of Ohio. And when I got out, I needed to go back to work. The State Board of Nursing really made me jump through a lot of hoops, but I am tenacious if nothing else. It took me a couple years. I got my license back. And then I started at the ground floor, giving flu shots. Anyway, I’m back in Central Ohio now, in the same place my son lives. I don’t get to see as much of him as I had hoped. But, he was four when I was arrested, and when I came home, he had a four-year-old and a six-year-old. It’s been a challenge, but life goes on.

Amanda Knox

Where do you work now?  

Ginny LeFever

It’s a long term care facility, but they also do a lot of rehab. We have a patient now who’s about 45 and she had a kidney removed and got a god awful infection. And then we have people who had hip replacement surgery, and they need some physical therapy. Then we have a 99-year-old who spends most of her days in a wheelchair watching the nurses go by. 

Amanda Knox 

When I emailed you, you mentioned that the pandemic has had quite an impact on the facility.

Ginny LeFever

Well, there are no visitors allowed. This past week some of the residents have gotten sort of inventive, or their families have, where the visitor comes and stands at one of the windows and and they see each other face-to-face that way, and then they talk on cell phones. And no volunteers. There’s a lot of church groups that come in and have music for the residents and they played bingo. Something every day. It was a really busy place and now everybody’s confined to their rooms. And the dining room’s closed. Thankfully no coronavirus yet, but we keep preparing for it. When we come to work, the front door is locked and somebody from the inside comes out and takes your temperature and then you sign in swearing that you’ve not had shortness of breath or fever, cough or any of that stuff.

Amanda Knox 

They’re taking it really seriously.

Ginny LeFever  

Oh, yes, definitely.

Amanda Knox   

And what is the general vibe? How are people feeling?

Ginny LeFever 

I think the residents are feeling like it’s the end of the world. Those who are having enough cognitive abilities left to understand the gravity of the situation. It’s got to be unsettling if you’re 75-years-old and you’re not quite with it and then the nurses come in masks. They issued us paper bags to carry around with us, so that if you have to take your mask off, because, I don’t know, you want to drink something, then you have to take it off by the earpieces and put it in the paper bag and then you carry it around for the rest of your shift.  

Amanda Knox  

How are you feeling?

Ginny LeFever 

I guess it was Thursday, the masks started. And it was a claustrophobic, actually. They’re hot. They make my glasses steam up. But I understand. We’re trying to err on the side of caution here. 

Amanda Knox 

Do you have any thoughts about how the 22 years that you spent imprisoned might give you any insight into what everyone is experiencing at your work right now?

Ginny LeFever  

Oh, sure. I describe my initial reaction to incarceration as being buried alive. I really felt that way. And I’m sure some of the residents are experiencing similar thoughts. It’s a tough situation.

Amanda Knox  

Are you able to help them in any special way given your understanding of their feelings?

Ginny LeFever  

I certainly understand how they feel, but I don’t know how to ameliorate the situation anymore than I am. I’m just one nurse. That’s all.

Amanda Knox  

Do your patients know about your history?

Ginny LeFever  

Nobody knows my history. I hide in plain sight all the time. Interestingly enough, though, I’m scheduled for my compensation hearing on June the first. And a lot of people from this county subscribe to the Newark newspaper, which is Licking county, where I was charged and sentenced. So I’m curious to see what happens then. Nothing’s guaranteed. 

Amanda Knox

Have you been reflecting on what prisoners and prison staff are going through?

Ginny LeFever 

Yeah, I have a former roommate who’s still housed at Marysville, at the maximum security prison here in Ohio. She’s doing 150 to life. Alice says that it’s actually no different, other than there’s no visitors and there’s no volunteers. They tried all this six foot distancing and all that proved quite a failure. And so they just do meal service as always, and as usual they play loose and fast with the rules to suit their needs. 

Amanda Knox 

Is she worried?

Ginny LeFever 

She’s been through so much stuff, I don’t think anything really worries her much. Of course, she recently lost one of her sons to a drug overdose. So, a lot of trauma. She quilts. She said in her most recent email that she thought she’d never experience any kind of normality again, and yet, when she was working on the quilt, she actually experienced a little peace of mind, because she got involved with what she was doing instead of thinking about all the stuff that’s going on.

Amanda Knox  

Is your work starting to feel more like a prison?

Ginny LeFever 

Oh, yeah. Definitely. The doors clanking. You got to go through this anti-room before you go into the actual facility. It just cranks up the stress a little bit.

Amanda Knox 

How is it for you that your coworkers and your patients don’t know that that reminds you of one of the darkest places that you’ve ever had to live through?

Ginny LeFever 

It’s a thing that happened to me. It’s not who I am. It doesn’t make or break me. I don’t know why it didn’t. 22 years is a long time. It’s a third of my life. I guess I compartmentalize my life. I’m not there to take care of me. I’m there to take care of other people. I put a hat on or something. I don’t know. I got this nurse mode. 

Amanda Knox 

Do you have any thoughts on quarantine that you’d like to share?

Ginny LeFever

I think that good personal hygiene is probably everybody’s best friend. Especially wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. But I think it’s hard on everybody and I think we all ought to be really extra nice to each other.