Being Ready To Change

More times than I can count I have been asked, “To what do you attribute your successful Reentry?”  I think people see me as the exception to the rule so they expect some extraordinary response. The fact of the matter is that my successful rehabilitation while incarcerated has led to my successful reintegration into society. My Creator deserves the Glory for enabling me to grow, change and reform to the extent that I have. It was no coincidence that I

always met the right people at the right time when I was incarcerated. I was always in the right place at the right time. I met many people who took a special interest in helping me develop. Without a doubt, I wanted to change. I was ready. In fact, I was determined. I was housed in institutions where opportunities and programs happened to exist. Where opportunities were limited, I created them. For example at SFF Hazelton I opened the Reentry Resource Center, developed curriculum and became a part of a peer-to-peer life coaching and leadership program. The administrator there was radical and she had a cutting-edge approach to incarceration and reform. She was open to listening to us and sought to understand our needs.

Interestingly, my rehabilitation began the day I became incarcerated though. Like it was yesterday, I can hear the cell door slam shut in the DC Jail. I vividly recall lying down on that cold bunk and reflecting on the choices I made that led to my downfall, knowing that I had some serious work to do. I sought to de-program and re-program myself physically, mentally, academically and spiritually. I adopted religion and began to establish principles in my life, I completed many therapeutic programs, and I obtained my GED and began to pursue a higher education. I began to exercise, becoming physically fit. All of my changes were gradual. I did not change overnight. It was a process. I was just determined to become a better person. Then, I began to give back by mentoring other women, teaching academic and physical fitness classes. I wanted so much to atone for my past. The only way I knew to do that was by helping others.

Today the changes I made in prison have translated into my new life. Coming home after 18 years in prison was like being born again. I have a second chance to be a part of my family, community and society. I was able to enroll in Trinity University, I work for the District Government, and I am a founding member of The W.I.R.E. – Women Involved in Reentry Efforts. The W.I.R.E. is working diligently to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women stay connected to one another in an effort to provide critical social support. The W.I.R.E. is the most important thing in my life today.

Admittedly, I have a unique advantage being a resident of the District of Columbia. We are definitely an inclusive and innovative jurisdiction. More often than not, I find myself in conversations with the leaders in my community, from the director of the parole division to the chief of police. The leaders in my community listen to people like me and they too seek to understand our needs. Doing that enables them to provide top-of-the-line services that make a real difference. The City has implemented “Ban the Box,” which has removed some barriers to employment. In D.C. Returning Citizens have the right to vote.  I pasted my “I Voted” sticker on my face after voting in the last election. I’m so excited about my new life and although it has not been a cake walk, I am finding my place. I am so grateful for the opportunity for a second chance. I am so grateful that I changed.

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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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