When you’re incarcerated, your vision of freedom changes. As an incarcerated woman, no one asks me how I plan to spend a summer holiday. Beach vacations, BBQs, and trips abroad are all on hold for me. It may sound strange but that does not bring me sadness. Through losing my literal freedom I have learned how to spot the silver linings.
Yesterday I was asked a question, “What does freedom mean to me?” As I pondered that, I also asked my friends what freedom meant to them. The consensus is that freedom is in the eye of the beholder.
For me, freedom is a mindset. It is having found contentment and peace within myself and knowing that I am no longer held back by the constraints of mind-binding dependencies. These hinderances took shape in my life as the wrong people, weird substances, and a wild lifestyle.
For me, it took three trips to prison. My third incarceration – a nine-year sentence – was my rock bottom. I committed to doing things differently this time. I poured myself int self-help books, got into college, and worked on my spirituality. I followed the rules and developed a small circle of friends who built me up and inspired me to be better. These things were a recipe for my mind, body, and soul to start healing. I knew I did not have it in me to return through prison gates a fourth time, so I set out to do something that challenged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone in ways like never before.
I applied for a job at Televerde. Televerde is an inside sales and demand generation company that hires, trains, and compensates incarcerated women. The core focus is on empowering, developing, and training us to have marketable business skills. The goal is that this will lead to professional career opportunities upon release. It took me three times to get hired, but I was not giving up. This was my moment, and I knew it. This was my golden ticket to a new life, and I knew it from deep within my soul, I desperately needed something different. When I walked into Televerde, on my first official day, I felt like I was just another inmate in orange. However, the Televerde family saw something different- they saw potential- now I see it too!
Through this divine intervention, my interpretation of freedom has shifted. Prior to my incarceration, I equated freedom as most do – to a political or civil right. When it was taken away from me, I felt trapped. Liberation only comes when you realize that no one can take away your mind – your ability to hope, to think, to grow, and to dream.
Looking at me, your first thought may be that my wings are clipped due to this orange shirt- but fear not. I am free to pursue opportunities in prison that will develop my mind and enable me to better my life and the lives of the people I love most. There is so much joy, independence, and pure freedom in knowing this.
I wasn’t always like this; rebirth takes time. Just like the lotus, we too have the ability to rise from the mud, bloom out of the darkness and radiate into the world
Coming into Perryville, I was lost, ashamed, fear-driven, lacking self-worth and felt like I belonged here. Through Televerde I began to find the courage to start rebuilding core pieces of my life. I was the architect, and now I valued the raw material I had to work with. Televerde has provided me with skills, mentoring, and tools necessary to change the trajectory of my life. Through their support I have been able to regain my sense of self-worth, independence, and yes, freedom. It does not matter that I wake up everyday in this place, this is a circumstance, this is not my forever. I matter. I have value. I can provide for myself. Everything I have mentioned here has created a perfect storm leading me towards my future.
Without organizations like Televerde or the Televerde Foundation thousands of people are missing their opportunities at a new beginning. I sit back and look around at all the women’s faces around me that have not yet been afforded the same opportunities as me and I think, if only there were more programs like Televerde. My wish is that my success and the success of my predecessors will inspire greater investments in our communities by businesses, governments, and philanthropic organizations.
As I wrap up my time here at Perryville, I reflect on all the things I have accomplished both personally and professionally. The lessons I have learned, obstacles overcome, all of which I am abundantly thankful for. The women who I admire the most are not the women who did not have battles, but instead fought those battles with grace striving to make each day count. I will walk out of here without regret, knowing that I have prepared myself for a meaningful and prosperous transition back into my community. I will leave here shameless with the realization that although I have spent almost a decade with clipped wings- I am indeed freer than most.