The Stigma of Prison, from the Gavel to the Grave

I went to Hawaii for vacation last week. That place is everything I dreamed it would be. I loved the blue water and the Aloha spirit that emanated all round me, but something upsetting happened there I wanted to share with you. I have served my time and completed my parole stipulations, yet I am still threatened by the sting of stigma, and this followed me to Hawaii.

My fiancé and I were in Waikiki for his birthday, and we were so happy to be there. It was a blast meeting people from all over the world. We participated in a photo shoot and it was amazing because the photographer was awesome and we really made a connection. After the shoot, I complimented the photographer because she had a great way of staging each shot and making us laugh just before she snapped her camera.

Without really thinking before speaking, I slipped and told the photographer that I had been the subject of an award-winning documentary film made by Gabriella Bulisova, a professional photojournalist. The film, called “Time Zone,” is a compilation of photos and video footage that chronicles part of my life that relates to being in prison as a young mother, undergoing change, and struggling with re-entry.


My fiancé loves to brag about how gorgeous he thinks I am to everyone who will listen. He said to the photographer, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you my wife is famous.” He was teasing, of course. Laughing nervously, I assured the photographer that it was not really true. She looked at me inquisitively and asked, “So what was the documentary about?” Chastising myself for talking too much, I could only reply vaguely, “It’s about me.”

She continued to pry, trying to gauge what the documentary was really about. I repeated with finality, “It’s just about my life.” She reluctantly accepted my answer. As I sat there wishing I had kept my mouth shut, I began to worry about whether or not she might Google me. With one stroke of a keyboard she could discover my story. Why did it matter to me? I would never see that woman again in life. Why do I care what she thinks?

I once read that an ex-offender is an ex-offender from the ‘gavel to the grave.’ The real battle is not how others perceive you, but how you perceive yourself. One thing I know for certain is that I can’t hide behind the bad choices I have made in my past, especially if I want to make a positive difference in the lives of others who face similar circumstances. I have to come to grips with it all and forgive myself as many times as it is necessary. Then, I also have to forgive myself for not forgiving myself. It’s an endless cycle, but such is life.



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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