Journalist Kevin Gosztola was in Augusta, Georgia, following the change of plea hearing in federal court and spoke to Reality’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, about the latest development in her case.
What are your thoughts after Reality Winner pled guilty in federal court?
It’s been kind of an uphill and/or a rocky thing preparing for this. I knew that, today’s hearing, I knew that she was going to change her plea. I knew that she was going to plead guilty to this. I knew that she was going to plead guilty to the violation under the Espionage Act. That’s something that I didn’t want to see happen. So it was very hard for me.
Today, right now, I feel a sense of relief because it’s over with. But still it’s not the ending that I was hoping for. It’s not the outcome that I had wished for. I never wanted for people to think that Reality was totally innocent, as far as—you know, today she was able to come out to the judge and say that she did this. She did release this document. She knew that it was top secret. She knew what that meant. She had the training. She had everything. So she knew that this was something she wasn’t permitted to do. So she did break a rule. She did violate a law.
What I didn’t want to see happen was that she was going to be charged and convicted under the Espionage Act. I didn’t want her to be labeled as a traitor. I didn’t want it to be this severe punishment, for her to be seen as somebody who acted against her country. Because to me when you read the Espionage Act that’s pretty much what it says. You have committed a crime against the United States. So that to me is something I really didn’t want to see happen and I’m not happy about.
Many parents would probably choose not to bother with media, but you’ve been a staunch advocate for your daughter. Why did you make that choice?
Before this, I was the person who stayed out of the media spotlight. There were times in my career before where I was asked to give interviews, and I was never one to volunteer for that or be comfortable with that.
Last year, when this all broke, when she was arrested, when suddenly media was everywhere, my husband and I, we were here. We didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t something that we were familiar with, that we were comfortable with, but when we started seeing what was being reported out there about Reality, somebody had to be her voice. Somebody had to speak up. Somebody had to give the other side of the story. Somebody had to tell the public about who Reality was, what she’s done, what she’s about. And if it wasn’t us, who was it going to be? There was not going to be anybody else.
One of the things throughout all this that amazed me—when you are willing to sit down and you are willing to talk, the media, they’re willing to listen. They are willing to at least report on the other side. And I think that this would have been a very different case. This would have been a very different story had we not been willing to open up and to invite people in, to return calls.
I’m willing to talk about Reality because as her mother I feel like I have an important story, an important voice about her. It’s been, wow, a new experience for us this entire year, never knowing what to expect. And there’s a fear of what you say. Do you say too much? Do you say too little? But always, I’ve always felt I had to do this for Reality. I had to do this for her because somebody needed to be her voice out there, and then to tell our side, to tell who she is.
For those concerned about Reality Winner, what can you say about your daughter’s ability to persevere?
Anybody who has communicated with Reality through this knows that she, oh my gosh, she’s strong. I heard today that she did 700 burpees. I mean, she’s keeping her physical strength, but she’s also keeping her emotional and physical strength.
I know that she’s already asked me to reach out and get her transcripts from her associate’s degree and the college that she’s taken. She wants to pursue her education. She’s already looking at filling out an application for a university. She’s going to be doing that. She’s going to continue her artwork. She has found strength in that as well and in expression as a way to express herself.
I would hope that people will continue to write her, continue to answer her calls when she calls. Her sense of humor, her sense of humor has absolutely not wavered at all. She keeps strong through her humor. She is a strong person, and she’s maintained her strength, but she’s also maintained her passion.
I want everybody to know out there that she continues to advocate for people that she has seen go through the system, people that she feels that are in need of help. She will call me. She’s called others. She will ask me, can you help this person? She’s still making a difference wherever she can, however she can, even being incarcerated. That’s who Reality is. That’s who Reality will always be, and I know that this isn’t going to break her down. It’s not going to change her.
I think that what it’s doing is it’s adding to her fuel. I think that she’s really getting energized through this. When she comes out, she’s probably going to be a bigger stronger advocate at the end of this.
Has Reality Winner been able to follow the news in prison and maintain a connection to what is going on in the outside world?
The only outlet—because they don’t allow computers or newspapers or anything like that—is the news [television]. She gets up every morning and she watches the news, and she makes sure that she is following whatever she can follow as far as what is going on out there in the world.
So, of course, there’s been times throughout this process where she’ll ask me to look things up for her or she’ll call somebody and say hey can you look this up. I need more information on this. People have sent her articles.
We found different ways to send her articles through this. Lincolnton [county facility where she’s jailed], the rules are you can’t send her a magazine article. But let’s say I copy something printed on a printer, and I write in the margins. Then they’ll give it to her because there’s a personal letter. Or if I write on the back of it, I can send her an article. So there’s been times through this where she’s requested certain information so she can learn more about what’s happening, what’s going on. So yeah that’s important to her.
What does Reality Winner think about receiving letters from supporters in the mail?
We know that her mail is scanned by either the FBI or the NSA so she only gets mail once a week, and she gets it in a bulk. Well, that’s her assignment for the whole next week is to make sure that she sits down and she reads everything. She looks at everything she’s given and then she responds back. That keeps her busy as well. That keeps her going.
It’s so important to me as her mom to know just all the people that are writing her, who are touching her, who are reaching out to her giving her that strength and that support. That’s important to me.
Please don’t stop that. And we’ll always make sure that everybody knows where she’s at, where you can write to her, how you can help her. You know, we’ll continue to do that. Just follow us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. We will continue to do that for her.
Your hopeful that she will be in a federal facility nearby where you’re from in Texas after sentencing?
That’s what I’m hopeful for. I’m hopeful that this court, this judge, will take into consideration who she is, what she’s done for her life, and will hopefully take that into consideration and really I want her to be somewhere near us or somewhere where we will have easy access, you know, to her.
I don’t know much about the prison system, the federal prison system, at all. But I’m hopeful that if it’s not in Texas it will be somewhere that it will be easy for us to get to so that we can visit with her and that she will have access to what she needs. She will have access to a university. She will have access to books.
Books have been important. She’s been not able to have free access to [books] this entire year [or] magazine articles. All of the things that are important to her. Classes. Her fitness routine. Access to sunshine. You know, that’s been something for this last year that she hasn’t had access to, that was really important to her, access to outdoor time to run. You know, so I hope that the courts here. I hope that they give her that. I hope they at least give her that.