Ex-Cons Don’t Always Look Like Ex-Cons; Look Around You

The other day I met a young woman who is in the process of completing her probation/supervision. She is 19 years old. When she told me she was on probation, I asked, “What did you do?” She replied, “Something stupid.” I couldn’t resist the temptation to disclose my personal status to her. I calmly stated, “When I was 19 years old I went to prison and I ended up staying incarcerated for 18 years.” Her face registered disbelief. She was such a pretty little girl. I was a pretty little girl myself. In fact, some might say I grew up to be a pretty woman.

When I announced that I was previously incarcerated for 18 years the older lady next to me looked at me stunned “Here we go…” I said to myself as I looked at her out of the corner of my eye.

“No, you didn’t!” the older woman said. She could not resist. She butted right into the conversation I was having with the young sister and asked, “You were in prison?” I responded affirmatively with a nod and finished my conversation with the young woman. I wanted her to know, “There are lots of young women in prison serving lengthy sentences for doing ‘stupid’ stuff. I told her that maybe making that ‘stupid’ choice saved her life, if she was smart enough to learn from it. She told me about her goal to obtain her GED and her aspirations to attend college. For some reason I believe she learned her lesson. She had that look in her eyes that I used to have when I was incarcerated and older women would give me positive insight. I was like a sponge, thirsty for knowledge and determined to grow and become better.

When I finished talking to the young woman the older lady who was ear hustling turned to me and said, “I can’t believe you were in prison”… “How old are you?” “Thirty-Eight” I replied. “Wow, I can’t believe you were in prison” she repeated, “You don’t wear it…. You know what I mean, don’t you?” I just looked at her knowing full well what she meant. You don’t look like you have been incarcerated. You don’t look like a criminal. I wanted to say, “FYI lady, the people who have been incarcerated don’t have a certain look, they are your neighbors, your co-workers, the people you shop and dine alongside. What the hell do you mean, I don’t wear it?” Of course I just smiled.

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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