by Todd Habiger
TOPEKA — Raychel Lopez- Owens admits that her prayer space isn’t ideal. It’s a 8-by-15 room that she’s decorated with many photos of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
A rosary hangs above her desk. It’s not much but, in prison, not much is all you have.
“I feel like I’m in a chapel, honestly,” said Lopez-Owens. “I love my cell. It’s a safe place for me because I walk in and God is right there.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, Lopez- Owens was the product of Catholic education. She attended Our Lady of Unity School, Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park, Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, and the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth.
She later married, had three kids and was a seemingly perfect mother.
“I was the mom that did everything for my kids — picking up friends, dropping off friends, taking everyone to the movies. My kids were involved in everything and I was the taxi. I didn’t mind at all,” she said.
But lurking underneath her seemingly perfect life was a dark secret. Her marriage fell apart and her life as a single mother on the go was catching up to her.
To cope, she turned to hydrocodone pills.
“I immediately took a liking to them,” she said. “They gave me soooo much energy and masked the pain that I carried around.”
While her children were around, Lopez- Owens could get by with just her pills. But her children weren’t always around.
“I would party every other weekend when my children were with their father,” she said. “I turned to alcohol, drugs, partying and my pain pills.”
Eventually, the party lifestyle caught up to her. In 2008, three of Lopez-Owens’ friends committed an aggravated robbery while with her, and she was placed on probation because she had no criminal record.
By 2012, she was a full-blown drug addict, taking anywhere from four to 20 hydrocodone pills a day. Because of her probation, she was required to submit to random drug tests. After multiple failed tests, Lopez-Owens was sentenced to prison for 11 years.
She was sent to the Topeka Correctional Facility. Alone and scared, she turned to God.
“[God] was the first person I turned to,” said Lopez-Owens. “This experience has created a close, intimate, loving, caring relationship between us. This is where God wanted me.
“If I wasn’t in prison, I would have never, ever, had this relationship with him.”
Lopez-Owens said she wakes up each morning and thanks God for another day. She prays for the safety of her children. She prays for her mother, who has become her children’s de facto mother. And she prays for her ex-husband.
Lopez-Owens’ release date is March 9, 2022.
“Prison is not where I want to be, but I thank God and ask him to please help me get through my time,” she said. “I wake up every morning in a good mood, all because of God.”