I’m Not Who I Use To Be

On Christmas Day I had the opportunity to see one of my sisters for the first time in over two decades. She lives three hours away from where I am based in Washington, DC. I never saw her while I was incarcerated, and even though I was released in 2011, she was not able to come to see me until now. When she walked into my mom’s house, I screamed, hugged her and asked jokingly, “Where have you been all my life?” She replied

seriously, “I’ve been right here all the time.”

When I was incarcerated my natural tendency to be with my family – to nurture, love and care for my family – dissolved. When I was in prison, I had so few opportunities to bond with my sisters, my friends or my daughter. I was socially isolated and deprived of the joy and fulfillment that comes from being with the people you love. Now that I am home, I want so much to be with the people I love. At times it is hard because I’m so used to being alone, when in fact being alone does not fascinate me at all. When I am with the people I love, I find my greatest joy. This past holiday I found that almost every time I returned home to my small apartment it reminded me too much of a jail cell.

My energy is through the roof right now. I’m so excited about 2014 and all that may come. Nevertheless, I am apprehensive, nervous and very afraid of the next steps in my life. Last year I failed math, took it a second time and passed it. I got a new job working in the field of reentry. In some ways I have failed and in others I have succeeded with my job. I have had the opportunity to save some funds in preparation of getting my apartment, though I missed my target goal by a 20% margin.  Physically, I have maintained my exercise regimen but managed to gain some weight. Mentally and emotionally I remain a wreck most days, but I’m still able to smile, provide positive energy and add to the lives of others. Just yesterday, my cousin pulled up beside me in her car. I was driving home from work, reflecting on my past and fantasizing about my future. Tears were flowing down my face. As I rolled down the car window, praying she would not notice, I sucked back the pain and spoke to her while we drove slowly in the same direction. A part of me was hoping she would notice, ask me to pull over and console me. Most people on the outside looking in see my life as a success. I see myself as an everyday work in progress. I adore life and am determined to live with purpose.

When I was visiting with my sister on Christmas Day, she said something that I found striking: “It is so hard for me to see you as a 40 year old woman. I keep thinking you are the little girl I saw before you went to prison, but you are a woman now.” I wonder how many people get stuck and remember people who become incarcerated the way they use to be. I wonder how many people who become incarcerated get stuck and continue to think of themselves as they used to be. I know for me a huge part of my anxiety about the future is due to my inability to let go of the mistakes I made in the past and accept the fact that I’m not the same person I use to be. My goal in 2014 is to begin to see myself as I am, not as I used to be. I must envision my life the way I want it to be rather than how I don’t want it to be. The year 2014 is looking bright.

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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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