Yesterday I went into the Correctional Treatment Facility (C.T.F.) to meet with the women incarcerated there who are preparing for reentry. I met with about 30 women in two housing units to share information with them about the reentry support services available to them upon their release.
It was one of the most difficult challenges I have faced since I have been home from prison after my own incarceration. As the Female Reentry Coordinator here at The Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs, you would think going into prisons and jails would become easier over time, but it remains very challenging for me.
I faced these same difficulties another time while visiting a different facility, SFF Hazelton, to facilitate a reentry resource fair with women there who were preparing for release. How defensive and vulnerable I felt! SFF Hazelton is the last facility I was held in during my 18 years of incarceration. Going inside there was tough. It was as if my subconscious mind conjured up memories of all of the ill treatment I was subjected to while there and I found myself telling myself over and over again, ‘you’re not locked up anymore.’
Yesterday my nerves were shot, and I had to fight back tears on several occasions as I walked through the doors of that jail. One locked door after another shut behind me and no matter how hard I tried I could not shut off the unwanted memories of myself 17 years ago when I was incarcerated there. I spent my first five years at C.T.F. and it was there that I first became acclimated and learned to adapt to prison life. It was horrid. I was so overwhelmingly depressed that I smoked marijuana almost every day in an effort to cope. That is where I was when my hair fell out and I had to shave it all off. Being confined in that facility with little exposure to the sun, rehabilitative opportunities and held in bondage was detrimental to my mental health even though I was fully in acceptance from day one that I had to be held accountable for my actions.
Being in C.T.F. and talking to the women yesterday ended up being rewarding and refreshing. I only hope I was able to make a difference in the lives of the women who are striving to rebuild their lives. Moreover, I realize more than ever before that not only did I experience trauma before, and during my incarceration, but also reentry in and of itself can be traumatic as individuals set out to adapt to a new life in society beyond prison walls. Many of them, I am certain, are haunted by memories of a painful past in prison and wish, like I do, that they could somehow forget.