Prison Families: A Survival Strategy for Incarcerated Women

Last weekend I stayed in a vacation rental in the Poconos with 10 women I had served time with. In total, we served over 140 years in prison. Being with them brought so much joy to my heart. I was so excited I barely slept because I didn’t want to miss anything.

We went swimming, zip lining, paint balling and dancing. Some of the women even played Pinochle for the first time since they had been released. It’s a popular card game in prison, yet I had no interest in playing. I try desperately not to do things I did when I was in prison, especially if they didn’t serve a real purpose in my life. I didn’t eat the homemade Chiliquita either. It’s a patty made out of smashed up tortilla chips with chopped vegetables and meat. Most people might enjoy it as these women seemed to, but I adamantly refused to eat that Chiliquita. It reminded me too much of being locked up.

The best part of the trip was the laughter. I haven’t laughed so much since my release. Several times a women would start venting about serving time and reentry. One woman went on a rant about giving dirty urine to her parole officer for smoking marijuana and being reprimanded to a drug program. She never smoked again. Another woman was almost near tears on Saturday night talking about how her adult child still holds her hostage to her past and treats her mean and unjustly even though she was released 10 years ago.

On several occasions women were venting about ill treatment they endured at the hands of correctional officers in the Federal System. I just kept reminding the women that, “all of that is behind us now.” Then, we would go back to laughing, dancing and talking about all of the success we have achieved.

These women are doing great work in their communities in areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and D.C., working as entrepreneurs, studying in college, working in the medical field, and working in the field of youth education. One woman in particular has actually translated skills she obtained while working with Puppies Behind Bars into a job at a Doggy Day Care. I am so proud of them all.

Oprah’s video about Puppies Behind Bars

When I was incarcerated those women were my pseudo-family. In that villa last weekend, I spent time with my prison-mom, who was incarcerated for 19 years, my auntie who served 17 years and several of my sisters who served lengthy sentences. We are not biologically related, but bound by cords as a result of the suffering we endured together.

One my peers who attended the trip has been incarcerated a total of 7 times in a 10 year span of time due to drug addiction. Now she has seven years clean and has not recidivated. She was so excited when we agreed to let her teach us a line dance. She has no idea the joy it brought me just to see her living life on life’s terms. I have never been very coordinated, but I put my best foot forward and danced my butt off. All the while I was reminiscing about the perseverance that enabled us to transform our lives and use our tragic circumstances to triumph into better women. I am who I am today partly because these women were there for me when I was at my lowest.

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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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