For most of us, prison remains a mystery. There are lots of funny and bizarre stories surrounding the experience - and there’s even a list of first names that are more likely to end up behind bars. More bizarrely, there are accounts of everyday items being fashioned into tools for self-pleasure by creative inmates. This is the story of a woman who went to prison and made a choice to fight.
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Nicole Chatagnier ended up in prison after a broken kneecap led to prescription meds and an opioid addiction that saw her life spiral out of control. Here’s her story, and how she dealt with a woman in the same institution who threatened to steal her husband.
What happened to Nicole Chatagnier
Nicole was first prescribed opioids to manage the pain of a broken kneecap when she was pregnant with her first child. This developed into an addiction, and like so many victims of the opioid crisis in the United States, Nicole saw her life change dramatically.
She married an abusive career criminal, lost custody of her sons, and was ultimately convicted of three felonies. The first time she was arrested, she was 33, and was in possession of stolen goods. This was down to her husband, who was once the most wanted man in Louisiana. She told the Daily Star:
My ex-husband had stolen some diamonds and I did not know that he had done that and I was in the pawnshop with him when he sold it, and they saw me on the video footage.
Months after finishing probation, Nicole got in trouble again. This time, she’d been collecting her own mother’s Xanax prescription. At the time it was tough having charges pressed against her by her own mother, but Nicole admits:
My mother pressed those charges to save my life.
Nicole herself was desperate to get clean and prayed to God for help. He seemed to send it in the form of a SWAT team that surrounded her house after 11 months on the run. Her track record had caught up to her: Nicole was given a five-year sentence for 37 counts of simple burglary.
In 2016, she found herself locked up in a women’s prison in Tallulah, Louisiana. Her experience was memorable:
There's nothing I didn't see in there, sex, violence you name it.
A fellow inmate threatened to steal Nicole’s husband
Nicole was considered ‘spoiled’ as she struggled to complete simple prison chores. Once, she tipped her mop bucket of filthy water over the belongings of a ‘lifer’ and was sure she was in for a beating. Thankfully, all the woman gave her was a nickname that stuck: ‘Prison Barbie’.
However, Nicole instigated a fight herself when another inmate pushed her over the edge. This woman started taunting her about her husband, with whom she was in the process of splitting up:
This other inmate, she was all about starting fights and everything and she had been pen-palling my husband at the time and she came out and said that she was gonna raise my son with him when they got out.
This was a branch too far for Nicole, who found herself standing on a concrete yard in a jumpsuit and at the end of her tether. She figured if she didn’t assert herself now, her life would be miserable for the whole of her time inside:
I just started swinging. I didn't say anything and I just went into it.
Thankfully, the fight didn’t last too long as guards broke it up and Nicole was sent to ‘mental for three days’. As horrible as this sounds, the reality is that it worked:
After that one fight nobody messed with me and it was easy.
Indeed, Nicole credits getting her life back to prison. She got clean while inside, and now runs sober living facilities with her current husband - who is a recovered meth addict himself. The pair have both written books about their experiences.
Happily, Nicole also got custody of her two sons back, now aged 11 and 22. The eldest has already made her a grandmother, and the family is awaiting the birth of his second child.
She says she has no regrets about the path her life took to get her to this point.
Daily Star: 'I was dubbed Prison Barbie and had to fight to survive - nobody messed with me again'