'I HAVE PAID MY DUES,' SHE SAYS OF PUNISHMENT
By Darlene Gavron Stevens, Tribune Staff Writer
Web-posted Wednesday, October 29, 1997; 6:08 a.m. CST
During her first night in jail, Bess Kontos said she was scared.
"When you hear that lock click loudly on your cell door, that's the most horrible sound in the world," Kontos said Tuesday, some 12 hours before the scheduled end of her one-week punishment for disobeying a Will County divorce judge.
Until last week, the Bolingbrook mother's closest brush with the law had been a traffic ticket.
But that was before Kontos launched into a three-year battle of wills with Associate Judge Robert Lorz over her two teenagers' refusal to see their father, Kostas Kapsimalis.
"I have paid my dues," Kontos said of her jail sentence, ordered Thursday after she refused to deliver her 6-month-old divorce judgment to the state child-welfare agency so that it could begin overseeing counseling for the teenagers. "I would hope the judge will now see my point, that I have a constitutional right to raise my children as I see fit."
For two years, the teenagers have refused to see Kapsimalis, saying they don't love him because he left them, and that they have a right to decide what kind of relationship they have with their father.
After dozens of heated hearings and a trial, Kontos was granted custody of Galatea and Peter Kapsimalis, ages 17 and 15, on the condition that the children go to counseling.
Kontos said Tuesday her confinement has been better than she expected in some ways, but worse in others.
"I never want to come back here, God no," said Kontos, looking wan but relaxed as she sat in one of the jailhouse classrooms. "But I'm not going to let (Lorz) say I'm an abuser and that I have no rights and the children have no rights."
Kontos remembered how her fear that first night in jail began to ease when she spotted some Twinkies and hard candies that had been thrown on her cell mattress.
"The other inmates knew I couldn't buy things at the commissary yet, so they asked the guard if they could leave me something because I was new," said Kontos as she twisted the prison identification wristband declaring her prisoner number 9707249.
The inmates' unexpected kindness was the first of many surprises for Kontos, who shares a jail "pod" with some two dozen women serving time for offenses ranging from forgery to prostitution.
"They have so many more problems than me," said Kontos, adding that she plans to repay the women by depositing money in their accounts at the commissary. "Many of them are waiting for trial, but I am going to go home to my children. They are honest with each other, they're not whiny, and they're more honest than some of the lawyers I have dealt with."
Kontos said she has been careful to obey even the smallest order from the guards, such as making her bed a certain way. Each day that Kontos is a good prisoner, she earns a day of freedom-thus, her two-week sentence has been halved.
"If you laugh too loudly, you can get locked down," said Kontos, referring to the times inmates are locked in their cells. "As it is, we are only allowed out (in the common area) about 7 hours a day."
The rest of the time, Kontos would be in her cell, a small, boxy space with just enough room for a concrete slab bed and mattress and a stainless steel toilet and sink. Two tall slivers of windows offered a view of a barbed wire fence.
Kontos said she misses her children, honor students who have continued to attend school and other activities this week. She said she has only spoken to them on the phone because she does not want them to see her in jail.
"I tell them it (jail) is fine. I even make jokes so that they don't worry about me," she said.
Although Lorz acknowledged that the children have continued to achieve well at school, he has said that Kontos mentally abused the children by turning them against their father.
Noting Kontos' history of refusing several past orders but complying when the punishment stopped short of jail, Lorz warned Kontos that if he had to, he would call in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help oversee the custody terms.
When Kontos refused to obey his Oct. 7 order to report her case to DCFS, the judge imposed the harshest punishment: jail.
Kontos said she feels more strongly than ever that she has been treated unfairly.
"If the children ever said once to me, 'I'd like to talk to Kostas,' I would support that," said Kontos. "I don't tell them how to think and how to feel, yet (the court) tells me to tell them they have to" visit and go to counseling.