Sandra Collins By Sarah Carter & Tierney Harvey

Sandra Collins, 53, is a mother of two, grandmother of eight, a rape survivor and a convicted felon.

In the years since her time in jail in the late 1990s, she has devoted her life to making a difference for people who have been in her shoes. She’s proudest of her lobbying for state legislation to protect inmates from sexual violence.

The “Protection Against Sexual Violence in Florida Jails and Prisons Act” was passed in 2001. The bill aimed to protect inmates by giving correctional officers education about sexual assault and punishing officers more severely for sexual misconduct.

That fight – to ensure jailed women were protected from the kind of sexual assault she suffered – is the reason the Tallahassee woman she is alive today. After being released from jail, when she was battling her rapist and facing obstacles at every step, she wanted to give up.

“My daughters didn’t deserve to have me as a mom — known all over the state as a woman being raped in prison -- having to deal with that embarrassment,” she said. “There was no justice for me, and I just decided I was gonna take some pills and give up on life.”

“It didn’t work,” she said.

She said she realized that she is meant to make a difference in the world and she is alive today to keep working at that goal.

As opposed to the other members of the focus group who participated in this story, Collins was not incarcerated within one of Florida’s prisons, but in a county jail in Quincy. She said she landed there after a felony conviction over bad checks when she was sentenced to six months.

During that time, she was put on a work-release program that allowed her to come home and spend time with her daughters every day. She said it was the best thing that ever happened to her.

Her children were 11 and 13 at the time, and although her sister took them in, they wanted their mom. They didn’t visit her in jail. She didn’t want them to see her there.

But that program came at a cost. A jail administrator demanded she pay him to stay in the program – or have sex with him. She paid him.

Over the few months she spent there, she said she gave him $5,000, and then decided that was enough. She wouldn’t pay anymore.

It was then that she said Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Roosevelt Baker took the other option – he raped her while she was on release from the jail.

“He took me and raped me at a cemetery. At gunpoint,” she said.

Even after she was released from jail, she said the threats never stopped. Baker would show up at her house, she said, and call her to tell her about what would happen if she ever reported the crime.

Finally, “I just got tired of the threatening phone calls,” she said, “and made up my mind, one day I was going to the state attorney.”

When she failed to win at the state level, she pushed the case to Washington and a federal attorney investigated the case. Although her case failed again, Baker was finally convicted at the federal level of sexually assaulting a female deputy.

Baker was sentenced to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, Collins had filed a civil lawsuit against Gadsden County. She won a settlement worth more than $200,000 and used some of those dollars to help fund her lobbying effort for the legislation to protect female inmates.

The years of legal turmoil, however, had strained ties with her children and her family. They had feared for her safety during the long legal fights, in particular, and urged her to give up.

She refused.

“So I was out here all by myself, no support,” Collins remembered. “I didn’t even think I believed in what I was doing. I was just fighting.”

That changed when she met then-Gov. Jeb Bush. She was in the capitol pushing her legislation when one senator told her to go away; he would never sign the bill.

Sandra Collins with Jeb Bush

In contrast, Bush told her he would support her along the way, but she needed to believe in herself first. Do you, he asked, believe in yourself?

“I said, ‘Yeah I believe in me.’”

He said, Do you believe in God?

“And I said yes,” Collins said.

“He said, ‘That’s the reason why you can’t give it up. If you believe in you and you believe in God, I believe in you. You can do this.’”

She said the positive words convinced her she could not give up. From there she went full force with her plan to keep pushing the bill.

Today, Collins continues to advocate for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. She heads a foundation, I Heard Your Cry, that aims to promote awareness of sexual abuse and spiritual healing.

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