My name is Kristy. I have a deep passion to connect women in prison to people on the outside. This means speaking truth and answering questions about why so many women are in prison in the first place. What did they do? What’s happening to their families while they do their time? How do they feel about getting multiple years in prison for a first time drug conviction? Are they remorseful? What keeps them busy in prison? How can we change the trajectory of mass incarceration and actually help? What kinds of things do they need to learn to be successful when they get out?
One way to satisfy your curiosity is to write a prisoner. Ask them the questions. Befriend a woman who has a lot to say and nobody to say it to. Often times it is a mother who hasn’t seen their kids and is continual pain about it. Yes, they made a mistake, that will not be disputed. Some mistakes are worse than others and as an addict under the influence, deep shame was the blanket that kept me hiding my bad decisions. As an inmate I was desperate for someone to ‘see’ me. To be reminded that I was a valuable human being.
In Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, the prison where I was housed for the remaining 2 years of my sentence, there were close to 2,000 women. Women of various backgrounds and social economic levels. There were attorneys, teachers, gang members, grandmothers, fashion designers, and pimps. I was in a cell with a famous serial killer who barely escaped death row, and a large transgender person who they called Linda who cut off her penis after robbing a bank. We were all sprinkled throughout cells and you never knew who you’d be sleeping inches away from.
This is Lorraine and I. The conditions under which we first met were horrific. I was brought to a cell on the second floor in unit One North in Carswell Texas, a maximum security federal prison. When she looked up from reading her book to greet me I thought “she looks normal, wonder what she’s in here for”? See even though I was a prisoner myself I still had preconceived ideas about what an incarcerated woman looked like. She was kind and showed me which locker as mine, although I didn’t have anything to put in it. Lorraine gave me shampoo, conditioner, lotion and food … I can’t remember exactly what it was because I was still shell-shocked. She made sure I had everything I needed to feel comfortable in a 6 x 8 foot cell along with two other inmates.
This started a deep friendship birthed from pain and shame. We were at our lowest and away from anyone who loved us. For many months we talked about what we would do if we were free again .. about how nice it would be to hear waves crashing and feeling sand under our feet. And how when we got out we would do something to make a difference.
Two years since we said our last tearful goodbyes we meet again.
On a beach.
In Cozumel, Mexico.
Feeling sand under our feet – Completely different women.
Ready to make a difference.
We had support from our families AND we worked our asses off. We got jobs, went back to school and lived in gratitude. We had a short term goal – to meet on the beaches in Mexico. Our long term goal is to spotlight women like us, who are in prison but with no support.
Life is all about connection and empathy and sharing stories. Hope is what keeps all of us going, especially women in prison. I had to dig and claw my way to grasp at any ounce of hope I could find. It took effort to have hope because of the flood of horror stories I heard about getting out of prison. How hard it was going to be and how most people don’t succeed. They say that once your in the system, you’ll never get out.
I am still in awe about that not being true. It was a matter of believing in myself and believing that I was worth it. I had to be humble and ask for help. In doing so I got help from every corner of my community. Did I have to work hard? YES. Did I have to be responsible for my actions and follow the rules? YES. Did I have to do things that I was afraid of? OH YES!
So here we go – let’s work together in closing that enormous gap of prisoners and citizens. Rather than making quick, off the cuff, judgements lets get to know each other. Let’s lean in to something that may be uncomfortable yet extremely rewarding and so necessary.
Stop complaining about the state of the world and get into action. This will change you … and your heart will thank you for it.
This is Lisa and she is amazing. She lives in Texas now and is free.This is Lisa, me and Teresa. Teresa is still not free. She is serving a 27 year sentence. Obama gave her clemency on his last day in office, provided she did another 5 years. 5 years? What the hell is that going to do after she has already been behind the walls for 13 years? It’s a tragedy. Teresa and I talk on the phone every week. She helped me in Carswell Texas.