- Associated Press - Saturday, April 23, 2016

YORK, Neb. (AP) - Age arrives with a variety of potential challenges, from mental and physical to financial difficulties and more.

Wilma Castor’s senior citizen years have been - and will continue to be - spent behind razor wire at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, the York News-Times (https://bit.ly/26gI4TN ) reports.

Castor, 67, and the most elderly woman in the 348-inmate population, has spent the last 20 years locked away following her 1997 conviction for first-degree murder as well as six other felonies and a misdemeanor in Buffalo County.

Her son, Eddy, was convicted of being an accessory to murder in the shooting death of Castor’s ex-husband in Kearney.

Castor agreed to sit down and chat about the realities of being a most unlikely and non-traditional grandmother and great grandmother.



Referring to herself as “a mother bear,” Castor said she has a son, grandson, granddaughter and great grandson living in Oregon. The son, she said, is severely diabetic to the point of needing transfusions.

For that reason he and his family cannot come to York to visit, which is why Castor has applied for transfer from York to a prison in Oregon.

Castor has the $4,000 she is required to pay for her share of the cost and Nebraska has given its blessing. Oregon has yet to give the green light.

Keeping track of her Oregon family has obvious challenges from prison; however Castor said she does have access to email and the telephone.

“My son sends me plenty of photos, too,” she said.

Castor has learned “not to get too close to people” at NCCW because they come and go so much.

“I have had maybe three friends” over the years “that I still keep in touch with.”

She gets frustrated with fellow inmates who are given multiple chances to stay out of prison, only to repeatedly throw them away and return in what becomes a revolving door.

Several women she can think of “have been in and out of here every year or every other on the same number. Why not give someone else a chance?”

Audra Jensen of the NCCW staff explained that if an inmate violates parole and is returned to prison she will retain the same inmate identification number because it’s still the same conviction and sentence. If, however, she completes her sentence and is released, but then re-offends, she will be given a new number.

Inmates who squander multiple chances to get and keep their freedom frustrate Castor.

She tells them, “If you’re going to do life, don’t do it on the installment plan.”

As for standing up to face the music, she commented, “We all did something” to become inmates. “You need to own it . it’s you,” not somebody else’s fault.

Special accommodations to age for Castor are few because she is in excellent health, but for diabetes, a knee replacement and “a little arthritis.”

“When it’s snowy or icy I get a plate brought to me” in the building where she sleeps.

Breakfast is 6:15-7:30 a.m. and work begins after that, except for inmate cooks who report at 5:45 in the morning.

She calls herself “fortunate” to have just two roommates at the present time. Most rooms in her area house three-to-four, however in another building as many as seven share a room.

Sleeping is often a problem for older people, but not so for Castor who “turns up my music” on her MP3 player, turns to face the wall and sleeps like a baby.

“To 90 percent of the people in here I’m Grandma,” she said.

Many jobs at NCCW don’t amount to much in terms of either strain or time, but not so for Castor who cleans the school 7-8 hours a day, five days a week.

“I am a cleaner, not a porter,” she stressed, adding, “I take my job seriously.”

Her area of responsibility is the lower floor of the building in which inmates work to obtain a high school General Equivalency Degree.

She is not a regular student herself, however Castor does take classes of special interest from time to time. Extra math is one example she cited.

“Stuff they would have in college, but I can’t get to college.”

Castor, who loves to crochet, creates lap blankets and hats for donation at the local hospital. She and others in the crochet group also make shawls for military veterans.

Grinning, she admitted the crochet ladies get a bit competitive.

“A lot of times we try to out-do each other,” she said. “It’s fun,” she said, adding, “I can’t stand to sit still and be bored.”

Castor said the facility needs a place for crafts. “A lot of people here would be interested in that.”

Of life on the outside, before prison, she said, “I didn’t have a Cadillac, but I had a nice car.”

Asked if she is prone to reflect on where she is and how she got there, Castor answered, “At times I’ve looked back and wondered why . then there’s the answer: I am a mother hen. Don’t mess with my kids.”

___

Information from: York News-Times, https://www.yorknewstimes.com

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