Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the women currently incarcerated in SFF Hazelton. A team of individuals representing Community Based organizations accompanied the staff from my office on the trip that was six hours round-trip.
We offered resources and shared our experiences, strength, and hope in an effort to help prepare the women for a successful reentry.
I spent the last five years of my 18-year sentence at SFF Hazelton, and returning to that place is exceptionally challenging. I always enjoy being able to support the women I left behind because I know what it’s like to feel forgotten, hopeless, anxious and afraid.
In the news: Womens prison opens
Sometimes having someone come to visit be it family, friend, or sympathizer an incarcerated individual may be inspired to endure seemingly insurmountable odds.
I was almost in tears as I expressed to the women how hard it is for me to go back there. “I want you to know that I am here for you,” I said. “I want you to know that I support you…” I remember so vividly where I came from.
During my two hours inside of that prison I wrestled with the reality that I am no longer an inmate. I was defensive, uptight, and my mood was melancholy, although I did my best to appear jovial, excited and positive.
When we arrived into the prison as I was preparing to go through the metal detector, a correctional officer walked past me and accidentally kicked the heal of my very high shoes. He mumbled, “Excuse me” under his breath and I replied, “I barely heard that apology.” He responded, “I said, ‘Excuse Me.” Defensively I replied, “Yeah, but I barely heard you. You almost knocked my foot off.”
I was clearly overreacting and responding to an egotistical need to assert myself. It was as if I needed to keep telling myself that despite all of the apparent stimuli, I was no longer incarcerated.
Everyone around me noticed the exchange. One of my peers commented that I was trying to get back for all of the meanness I was ever subjected to while at Hazelton. I just tried to shrug it off. I was embarrassed by my behavior.
To my dismay, later on during the resource fair presentation, I found myself being stern, assertive and abrupt with another correctional officer. A woman was venting about the ill treatment she was receiving at the facility, and the guard spoke up defending the staff. Instantly my antenna went up because the women were there to converse with us not the staff. The staff was supposed to be there for security reasons and to ensure that we did not pass any contraband. I highly doubt that they were instructed to engage in our dialogue.
As the correctional officer responded to the woman, I fought to compose myself. When he was done, a female officer spoke up to reiterate what her co-worker had said. That was when I could no longer contain myself.
I spoke up and told the correctional officer that we were there to visit the women and spend time talking to them. I continued, “You will be here when we leave and if you have things you want to convey, you can do it when we leave.” I was upset by the officer’s tendency to still the voices of the women who so desperately needed to be heard.
I felt disrespected and wondered if they would have interrupted the conversation if we were not a group of formerly incarcerated women. What if we were men, clergy, or even regular old law abiding citizens. I wonder.
Everyone in my group appreciated my decision to speak up. They continued to joke about my decision to assert myself in an environment that once threatened my ability to do so. I was not happy with myself because I pride myself on being self-controlled and couldn’t help but wonder how much my ego was dominating my thoughts.
Related: Families for justice as healing