The Stigma of Prison, from the Gavel to the Grave

I went to Hawaii for vacation last week. That place is everything I dreamed it would be. I loved the blue water and the Aloha spirit that emanated all round me, but something upsetting happened there I wanted to share with you. I have served my time and completed my parole stipulations, yet I am still threatened by the sting of stigma, and this followed me to Hawaii.

My fiancé and I were in Waikiki for his birthday, and we were so happy to be there. It was a blast meeting people from all over the world. We participated in a photo shoot and it was amazing because the photographer was awesome and we really made a connection. After the shoot, I complimented the photographer because she had a great way of staging each shot and making us laugh just before she snapped her camera.

Without really thinking before speaking, I slipped and told the photographer that I had been the subject of an award-winning documentary film made by Gabriella Bulisova, a professional photojournalist. The film, called “Time Zone,” is a compilation of photos and video footage that chronicles part of my life that relates to being in prison as a young mother, undergoing change, and struggling with re-entry.

TIME ZONE

My fiancé loves to brag about how gorgeous he thinks I am to everyone who will listen. He said to the photographer, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you my wife is famous.” He was teasing, of course. Laughing nervously, I assured the photographer that it was not really true. She looked at me inquisitively and asked, “So what was the documentary about?” Chastising myself for talking too much, I could only reply vaguely, “It’s about me.”

She continued to pry, trying to gauge what the documentary was really about. I repeated with finality, “It’s just about my life.” She reluctantly accepted my answer. As I sat there wishing I had kept my mouth shut, I began to worry about whether or not she might Google me. With one stroke of a keyboard she could discover my story. Why did it matter to me? I would never see that woman again in life. Why do I care what she thinks?

I once read that an ex-offender is an ex-offender from the ‘gavel to the grave.’ The real battle is not how others perceive you, but how you perceive yourself. One thing I know for certain is that I can’t hide behind the bad choices I have made in my past, especially if I want to make a positive difference in the lives of others who face similar circumstances. I have to come to grips with it all and forgive myself as many times as it is necessary. Then, I also have to forgive myself for not forgiving myself. It’s an endless cycle, but such is life.

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About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.