Pauline Rogers’ world was rocked at age 9 when she witnessed her mother shoot and kill her dad, Woodie Buxton, in self-defense in Vancleave, a small community outside Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast where Rogers grew up.
“When I watched her kill my father, my mindset changed, shifted. I got stuck in that place of trauma. I became fearful of this loving woman and would sleep with the covers over my head at night, wondering if she was going to come get me,” Pauline Rogers, 63, told the Mississippi Free Press in June 2021.
The court ruled the case self-defense, and her mother wasn’t convicted. Rogers said she never got help for her trauma, and neither did her mother. They knew of no mental-health facilities, not that they could afford it. She watched her mother go into a deep depression and become a workaholic, which limited the time Rogers and her siblings saw her. They were mostly at her grandmother’s house, and they only saw their mom on weekends.
“I don’t think my dad had to die. She had to drive 40 minutes just to get him to the hospital. He died en route. Had there been somewhere for her to get him to that night, he might still be alive,” Rogers recalled.
No hospital nearby. No mental-health facilities. Limited income. Rogers said a lot of issues in the Black community wouldn’t exist if we had the necessary resources and services where we live.
“And a lot of that creates pressure, jealousy, anger,” she added. “A lot of them are frustrated because when you want to do better, you still see no way to do better. It’s a pressure. It’s like being in a pressure cooker, and that is what’s happening in our communities.”
Rogers is the oldest of 11 siblings, and her grandmother always instilled in her that it was her responsibility to help out with them. But her own road through the criminal-justice system was rocky.
Trauma Birthed ‘Good Girl Stealing’
Pauline Rogers’ trauma from losing her father and the pressure of caring for her siblings pushed her down a different path. She remembers being deceptive as a child. It started with her dressing herself and her siblings up to attend funerals, not to grieve with the families, but for the repass. She said you could easily leave with casseroles, cakes and whole pans of bread.
She also was into what she deems “good girl stealing,” taking money from her grandmother’s purse to pay her church tithes.
“My grandmother always gave us money to put in church to make us be responsible for paying our own dues and offerings. Sometimes I wouldn’t pay mine. I kept it and went down to the local store where we could walk to, and you could get cookies and pickles,” she recalled.
Rogers’ first brush with crime came at age 11, when she shoplifted some pajamas and house slippers for her and her younger siblings.
“I wanted us to go to bed looking good like I saw other people. You had church clothes, school clothes and then sleeping clothes,” Rogers said. “Well, we didn’t have sleeping clothes. We were sleeping in our clothes, and I wanted to sleep like everybody, every other normal person.”
The officer did not arrest or take her in, but paid for what she stole, gave her $7 in cash and a pep talk, and took her home in his police car. He told Rogers that she didn’t have to steal and if she needed anything to ask for help.
“It wasn’t that easy,” she said. “But that was how my crime started. It started from being responsible for my younger siblings.”
The shoplifting shifted from being about the siblings to stealing for her own benefit. It was taking clippers from Sears, Roebuck, and Co. that got her sentenced to six years in prison at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility as a habitual offender. It was her third time getting caught stealing from a store.
When she was locked up, Rogers was in her late 20s, deeply depressed and wearing the weight of the trauma from her father’s death. She felt isolated and had attempted suicide before prison. Even after getting arrested, she didn’t immediately call anyone to tell them she was locked up.
“What I heard about prison wasn’t good, and I thought, well, this is the end. I’ll just go there. I’ll be raped. I’ll be killed,” she described.
“I was trying to get my mind in a frame to just endure the rape. Just take my mind to a place of going through the rape just to survive and live. And I was like, if I can’t do that, just let them kill me.”
‘The Closest To Incarceration’
Prison was a period of deep reflection for Pauline Rogers about her life, her upbringing, and the teachings of her grandmother and mother. Wendy Hatcher assigned her to work in the chaplain’s office assisting with her duties.
“I was able to be positioned to help a lot of other people that were incarcerated with resources, and so I became significant in the prison,” Rogers said.
She ended up serving half her sentence, three years, and after her release in 1987, Hatcher allowed Rogers to come and live at her home in Jackson. While living with Hatcher, Rogers worked as a janitor in a doctor’s office over the next few years and got involved with New Horizon International Church.
She married her husband, Fred, who was also a former prisoner she met while incarcerated. Together, they were able to start the Rech Foundation, where they offer transitional housing and reintegration services to those formerly incarcerated.
Rogers named the Wendy Hatcher Transitional Home in her mentor’s honor, as it provides housing for women transitioning from prison. The home offers mentoring, social and life skills training, work development and other services.
In the midst of the pandemic, Rogers said she faced difficulty operating at full capacity due to strict CDC, city and state regulations. Only three of her five transitional homes were operational as she continued to take in individuals leaving one chaotic environment only to enter another one, she explained.
“One lady in particular that we picked up, she was from out of state with no ID, no birth certificate, no Social Security card. She had a job lined up before she got out. When she got out, that job was closed because of the pandemic, and she had been locked up over a decade,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the woman felt like she was being reincarcerated, and she was hungry and aggressive for work where there was none. She believes this is akin to the state of mind many people were in during the pandemic with idle hands, few resources and no income.
“By no means is incarceration the same as being sheltered in place during the pandemic, but for some people, it was the closest to incarceration that some of them had ever known. When I hear an increase in crime, I hear an increase in oppression and suppression,” she said.
Rogers said if she had mental-health facilities, financial resources and a creative outlet as a child, she believes she would have avoided the troubles of her past.
“Being the oldest, I had to be in the kitchen all the time with an apron. When the children got out of school, I had to be there when they got out of school. I had no childhood life. And kids are still going through this today,” she expressed.
Also read Aliyah Veal’s BWC Hinds Project overview of systemic violence in Jackson now and through the decades, build around a mother who lost her son to gun violence during the pandemic.
Watch for these pieces coming soon in the BWC Hinds Project:
• Detailed story on history of race violence in Hinds County and Jackson.
• DeAnna Tisdale Johnson’s interview with a mother who lost a son to violence, whom both DeAnna and her mother tried to help.
• Violence solution pieces, starting with how police can better engage and respect Black families who lose children to fun violence.
This in-depth Hinds County report is part of the “(In)Equity and Resilience, Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19” project looking at systemic inequities long facing Mississippi’s Black women and their families and institutions that the pandemic revealed and exacerbated in Mississippi. In upcoming weeks and months, the BWC Project team is publishing what their systemic reporting and numerous solution circles with Black women revealed about three counties (so far): Noxubee (education); Hinds (violence and public safety) and Holmes (health care adequacy and access). The journalists are following up each county overview with specific solutions-journalisms pieces about problems their reporting revealed.
Also see: Jackson Advocate Publisher DeAnna Tisdale’s opening column introducing the BWC Project and reporting collaboration. Visit the full BWC Project microsite here.
Register at mfp.ms/circles to join a solutions circle to discuss violence prevention in Hinds County and beyond on Feb. 15, 2022 and write [email protected] to offer feedback on the reporting. Reach out to Kimberly Griffin at [email protected] if you’d like to sponsor work in additional counties for this project.