She’s Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons

By Kerri Sandaine
Lewiston Tribune, Idaho

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After realizing that she was actually serving a life sentence for mistakes she had made in the past, Layne Pavey formed a lobbying group called “I Did the Time” and traveled to Olympia to persuade Washington lawmakers to make criminal justice reforms. The group is now establishing a nonprofit organization called “Revive Center for Returning Citizens.”


If you read her resume, you probably wouldn’t guess Layne Pavey spent almost two years in federal prison on a cocaine charge.

The other details — former Clarkston Junior Miss, college athlete, coach and real estate agent — make sense.

And academic All-American, team captain and conference home run champion are definitely in her wheelhouse.

But a convicted felon who spiraled into suicidal thoughts and despair? It’s doubtful anyone who knew Pavey in high school saw that coming.

By most standards, the 34-year-old Spokane resident grew up in a good family and had everything it takes to succeed.

Her father, Rick, played baseball at Washington State University and owned Domino’s Pizza franchises in Lewiston, Clarkston, Pullman and Moscow. Her mother, Zig, is a longtime school teacher and coach who devoted her life to kids, including the couple’s three daughters.

Pavey and her younger sisters were honor roll students and high achievers.

When she went to college, Pavey excelled on and off the softball diamond at Montana State University Billings, where she was the star catcher for the Yellow Jackets.

A few years later, she felt the sting of the law.

In 2010, this tight-knit family’s world unraveled when Pavey was sentenced to 20 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

How she wound up there involves a man, a recession, denial and depression.

“I have never even done the drug I went to prison for,” Pavey said. “I accepted drug money to pay the mortgage on a house in my name and let my (former) boyfriend use my car, and I ended up behind bars.”

Luckily, Pavey’s story doesn’t end there. She did the time, launched a grass-roots movement to help other felons, earned a master’s degree and became a clinical social worker.

Now she’s making lemonade, so to speak, instead of more mistakes.

The unraveling
The Paveys used to live near the Southway Bridge in a house with a stellar view of the Snake River. The home was a lively hub for the girls and their friends, and the kitchen table was usually covered in art projects and sports schedules.

In 2000, the family decided to move to Spokane. Pavey had just been crowned as Clarkston’s Junior Miss and the relocation forced her to relinquish her title in the local program, now known as Distinguished Young Women.

After graduating from Lewis and Clark High School with the class of 2001, Pavey set off for Billings, where she would flourish as a student athlete at MSU.

“At that point, I wanted to be an attorney,” Pavey said. “The irony. I later found social work was the perfect match. I’ve always been extremely interested in people and how the systems we live in impact development.”

She and her boyfriend, who was also a college athlete, moved in together shortly after graduation. Pavey was tending bar and selling real estate and he was working in the roofing business.

At the time, the housing market was hot and Pavey was making lots of money. At the age of 22, she was able to secure a “stated-income” loan for $250,000 and bought her first house.

That was right before the real estate market plunged into a deep, dark recession. By the winter of 2008, no one was buying houses in Billings and roofing jobs were nonexistent.

Pavey coped with the financial blow by consuming comfort food and marijuana. She was smoking pot and putting on pounds as she worried about how to pay her $1,800-a-month mortgage.

And things weren’t going well with the boyfriend.

“It seemed like he was always depressed,” Pavey said. “We were always trying to buy happiness. I felt like it was my responsibility to make him happy. I was invested in him. I wanted to marry this man.”

That’s when the coke dealers came knocking at their door.

Her boyfriend was presented with an opportunity to start selling cocaine and he pounced on it, Pavey said.

“The idea was we were going to do it long enough to get caught up on our bills and keep all of our fancy stuff. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t stop him. Neither one of us thought I’d be affiliated with it in any way.”

Around Christmas, Pavey decided she’d had enough. She gave her boyfriend an ultimatum: “It’s either me or the drug business.” He chose the second option.

“Selling drugs is easy,” Pavey said of his decision. “You don’t have to work all day and the customers call you.”

She moved out of the house in January 2009 and focused on expanding her pitching and hitting clinics for kids. When spring rolled around, the market picked up and she sold three houses.

“I felt like my life was turning around. I felt like I had moved on.”

Little did she know, federal investigators were about to make a major bust in Billings.

On her way home from work one day, Pavey noticed she was being followed. When she pulled into her driveway, the Drug Enforcement Administration delivered a startling piece of information: Pavey was facing felony drug conspiracy charges and needed an attorney.

In a daze, she went to Coeur d’Alene Lake to spend the Fourth of July with her all-American family. It didn’t seem possible that she would be going to prison in the near future.

A few days later, she met with the DEA and an attorney — the reality began to sink in. Pavey was in big trouble, in more ways than one.

“Basically I was told there was no way I was getting out of this. That’s when I went into a downward spiral. I was suicidal, drinking and smoking marijuana. I was advised to take the plea deal and do the time.”

When the 26-year-old drove to the courthouse in her 2005 gold Cadillac to enter her guilty plea, she flunked a drug test and was immediately sent to jail.

“My car was parked on the street with a cup of Starbucks in it and I never saw that car again.”

The Billings cocaine bust led to the incarceration of 26 people, including her ex-boyfriend. Pavey was sentenced on March 5, 2010, to 20 months in federal prison.

‘Orange is the New Black’
The flight to SeaTac Federal Detention Center reminded Pavey of a scene from the movie, “Con Air.” She and the other inmates bound for western Washington were shackled, with no hope of reaching an exit in case of emergency.
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“The prison system is terrible,” she said. “It’s disgusting to see how people are treated.”

On the inside, Pavey quickly learned the unwritten rules of survival. Women usually organize by socio-economic status and most of the middle-class inmates had committed drug or paper crimes, such as fraud or tax evasion. Men who are in custody are more likely to organize by race, she said.

Pavey got along well with a wide range of people, thanks to a skill she picked up while playing softball. Being able to braid hair is a big deal in prison, she said. Another asset was her ability to speak Spanish.

“The running joke is 75 percent of women in federal prison are in for something they did with their man and the other 25 percent are immigrants,” Pavey said.

During her confinement, she taught general education courses for 29 cents an hour and waited for the day she would get out.

Her parents and sisters would drive across the state to visit. Overall, it was a traumatic experience for everyone involved.

The rumor in prison was that Martha Stewart had a queen-sized bed in her cell, but the conditions at SeaTac were similar to what you see on the first season of the Netflix web television series “Orange is the New Black,” Pavey said.

“The prison system is a symptom of poor social conditions in society. It’s driven by poverty, abuse, neglect, mental illness and institutional racism.”

Released, rejected, restored
After she was released from prison, Pavey hoped to put the past behind her and move on.

“Instead, every door was slamming in my face,” she said. “I finally got a job at a Domino’s in Spokane because Dad knew the owner. My credit was shot and I was turned down everywhere I went for a job because I was a felon.”

Looking into the future, Pavey said she realized she was actually serving a life sentence for the mistakes she’d made.

With no job prospects, she went to graduate school at Eastern Washington University and earned a master’s degree in 2014. She now works as a clinical social worker in Spokane and no longer lives in her parents’ basement.
Her passion is helping people transition from prison back into society.
She helped form a lobbying group called “I Did the Time” and traveled to Olympia to persuade Washington lawmakers to make criminal justice reforms. The group is now establishing a nonprofit organization called “Revive Center for Returning Citizens.”
“This is my way of giving back to the community for the mistakes I made,” Pavey said. “We need different solutions for this thing we call crime. We believe crime is actually the breakdown of human relationships. Prisons are full of untapped human potential, and after seeing that, it’s important for me to make things better.”
It may not have been what she or her family envisioned, but Pavey got a firsthand education in criminal justice and she plans to use it for the greater good.
“I let everyone down and I never want to have that feeling again,” she said. “People make mistakes, but you have to learn from them and move forward. This is my way of moving forward.”

Sandaine may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.
(c)2017 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
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