“I can’t right what I did, but I served my time the best that I could.”
“I grew up thinking I was a mistake,” says Lynn Acosta (formerly Lynn Noyse) from a transitional home for veterans near Monterey, California. During her adolescence, Lynn says, she was “abused in every way a child could be.”
Lynn was born to a two-parent household that quickly dissolved. “My earliest memories,” says Lynn, “are of protecting my younger brothers from the hand of my birth mother, who was very violent.” When Lynn was seven, her mother abandoned the family and eloped to Mexico.
The family found her mother’s house in Portland vacant. “My dad had to break a window,” says Lynn. “He lifted me inside so I could go around and unlock the door. I guess somewhere in the home he found a note saying she didn’t want us anymore.”
Lynn and her siblings moved in with their father, but that stay was short-lived. At around age 10, Lynn and her siblings moved back in with their mother. While there, Lynn says, her stepfather molested her several times. Lynn moved back in with her father until she was 16, when she began running around the streets of Portland.
“At 19, I went into the United States Navy,” says Lynn, whose time in the armed forces was shortened after Lynn was traumatically sexually assaulted. Soon after, she met her first husband.
Within six months they were engaged, and expecting their first child. Lynn says the relationship quickly devolved into something that was unhealthy. Along with verbal and physical abuse, there were instances of spousal rape and infidelity. The couple had a second child, a daughter. Lynn thought it would save the marriage.
Throughout this time, Lynn remained in contact with an old flame whom she’d known for over a decade. “He was somebody that I could always go to if I needed help,” Lynn says. In the fall of 1997, Lynn’s old friend called with a message that would change their lives. “Lynn, you know your husband is cheating on you?” Lynn recalls him saying. She didn’t believe it.
She remained in disbelief until the evidence came via a phone call from a man Lynn had never met. He said that his wife and Lynn’s husband were having an affair. After meeting with the stranger, Lynn was convinced. Within a week or two, her old friend called again from California, asking, “Do you want me to kill him?”
Lynn eventually called off the plan, and her family went on living—until the day that two detectives knocked on the door of Lynn’s parents’ house.
Lynn’s former friend from California had murdered his wife. Because Lynn had knowledge of the plot, she was also arrested in June of 1998 on charges of conspiracy of first-degree murder, and extradited to California. She ended up serving 20 years, five months and 22 days.
“In some ways,” says Lynn, “I think the military prepared me for acclimating to prison.” She understood submitting to authority and keeping her quarters clean, but seeing violence and drug overdoses was hard for her, as was being away from her children. “I was a preschool teacher’s aide before I was arrested,” says Lynn, mentioning how the sudden distance caused severe depression. “I medicated for a good couple of years.”
It’s not uncommon for incarcerated people to be issued pills to deal with depression, Lynn says. “It’s very sad to see people walking around like zombies,” and in that same state of mind, she says, was when she accepted a plea bargain for her charges. “I regret it,” she says. “And I regretted it every single day that I was incarcerated.”
“It’s hard to put into words that feeling of going from ‘You’re never going home, you’re going out in a pine box,’ to having a panel of two commissioners saying, ‘We do not feel you pose a risk to public safety,’” Lynn says through tears. As for the guidance she needed to approach the parole board, Lynn credits UnCommon Law’s Executive Director, Keith Wattley, as well as a number of other organizations.
When Lynn realized that, due to time served, she’d be able to be seen by the board, she wanted to celebrate the idea of possibly getting out of prison—but was met with the humility of knowing that there was still someone dead because of her actions, or lack thereof. “I can’t right what I did,” says Lynn. “But I served my time the best that I could.”
Once she was granted parole, Lynn’s only question was: “Now what? What is life going to look like?” After getting situated in a transitional home, Lynn found community in a circle of other former lifers. “There is a distinct difference,” says Lynn, “between people that come and go in the system like it’s a McDonald’s drive thru, and a lifer.”
After two decades in conditions she describes as “oppressively de-feminizing,” Lynn says she’s embracing the feeling of wearing dresses.
After her release, Lynn found stable employment at the Marriott. Her initial living situation was supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and she completed training to become a certified VA counselor.
Now she’s a life coach for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, working inside the same prison where she herself spent 20 years.
Lynn is also newly married and living with her husband Chris Acosta, who is also both a former lifer and a veteran. They recently went on the “vacation of a lifetime” together, traveling to Hawaii and Texas.
She’s even visited Portland. “Reconnecting with family has been so important,” says Lynn, who adds that both of her parents are now terminally ill. “I’ve been able to have these minutes with my family, to tell them I love them and that I’m sorry for the years of pain that I caused them in my absence.”