Catherine Jones has spent a good part of her childhood and most of her young adult life in prison. But when asked about the time she has spent behind bars she doesn’t sound bitter or even sad about the time she has lost.
A story from Florida Today and carried by WTLV News reports Jones expects to be released this year from a Florida prison and is hoping for a new life.
Jones and her brother, Curtis Jones, pleaded guilty in 1999 to second-degree murder charges. They admitted to shooting and killing their father’s girlfriend, Nicole Speights, who they believed was not doing enough to stop the sexual abuse they were suffering at the hands of a family member who lived in their Port St. John home. They would later tell authorities they had planned to also shoot and kill their father and the family member who was abusing them.
Catherine Jones was 13 years old. Her brother was 12.
At the time, they were the youngest children in the country to be charged as adults for first-degree murder, a crime for which, had they been convicted, they would have faced life in prison. They both took a deal for the lesser charge in exchange for 18-year sentences to be followed with probation for life.
Had they been charged as juveniles they would have faced no more than 36 months in jail.
Ten years later, a story from Florida Today seemingly verified the stories the children told authorities at the time they were charged.
Documents uncovered during the research for the story indicated the agency that came to be known as Department of Children and Families had investigated the family, on more than one occasion, because Jones and her brother had shown signs of abuse. Further digging revealed that the family member — who was never named in news reports because he was never charged — had previously been convicted of sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s daughter in 1993.
Curtis Jones and his sister told each other stories of the sexual abuse they had both endured. They decided their only way out was to kill the family member and their father and his girlfriend.
“There are some times when I look back at it and wonder if this didn't happen, would we have healed to the point where we are?” Jones said in 2009. “Did it take something like this to happen or were there other things that could have been done? At 12 and 13, you don't know about anything else.”
Now, nearly 16 years later and with time earned off from her sentence, Catherine Jones thinks she could be released as early as July. And she is not dwelling on the past but looking to the future, knowing she is going to have to make a lot of adjustments.
“After spending all of my teenage years and most of my young adulthood behind bars, I'm being released into a foreign society so different from what I left behind,” she wrote in a recent letter to Florida Today.
"Of course there are fears, mainly because there's so much I must learn to function like a normal person: how to drive, fill out job applications, text, dress for a job interview, build my credit, obtain life, dental, medical insurance,” she added. “I'm completely clueless. The idea of being 30 and completely dependent on others to teach me how to do these basic things isn't appealing. I'll leave prison just as clueless as I was at 13.”
But she will have help. In 2013 she married her prison pen pal, a Navy man, Senior Chief Ramous K. Fleming, who read about her story and became intrigued. He said they eventually fell in love.
Fleming said he plans to retire from the Navy once his wife is released from prison so he doesn’t have to face another deployment.
“I don't want to leave her alone,” he said.