Violence, Crime and Self-Esteem

I’m so grateful that God does not waste time when it’s time for me to learn what I need to learn. The very day I arrived to the transitional house after being released from incarceration the women of the house were engrossed in a self-esteem class. Before unpacking my bags I decided to sit in on the class. They were talking about the messages we hear and how they affect our self-esteem. I spoke in the class about how I heard such great things about the group from

the staff in the Federal Prison SFF Hazelton WV before I was released. I felt so thankful that people were able to see the good in me and share it with me. In turn, I was able to internalize their messages. Nevertheless, there was always this nagging doubt. Whenever I heard something positive said to me, I always felt unsure as to whether or not they were actually addressing me.

I would have those moments like in one of those cartoon scenes, when the cartoon character sees someone before her, hears their voice, knows no one else is in the room besides the two of them, yet the character still looks around as if the person before her is talking to someone else. Only I don’t look around, and I know I’m not actually a character in a cartoon. I know for certain that no one else is in the room. But I still just think to myself, who is this person talking to?

I guess it’s true that other people see you better than you see yourself. After being one of the worst of criminals, going through a transformation process, and returning to society, I still have moments when I feel horribly bad about the things I’ve done in my past. My self-esteem has been so dogged out by the prison culture, by the stigma of being a felon and the unrealistic expectation of the people in my life. One thing is certain, other people could never beat me up more than I beat myself up about the things that I have done. Sometimes I find myself just crying. People say “God Forgives.” I think, yeah that’s easy for you to say when your worst sin is cursing or having sex out of wedlock. It’s all just a bit much.

The other day I was at Saint Mary’s College speaking about youth violence, women in prison and reentry. During the question and answer period, a guy asked me one of the most profound questions I have ever been asked. He said, “Do you ever have days when you don’t think about what you did on that dreadful day?” I took a deep breath. “No,” I replied. “I don’t think that day will ever come. Sometimes I have days when the first thing I think about is the crimes I committed that cost those two young women their lives.”

Everything that I am and everything I strive to become is closely linked to my actions on that day. No matter how much I do my best to forgive myself, love myself and progress, I feel stagnated by my past and the anxiety of reintegration. At times I feel downright immobilized by the stressful task of rebuilding my life. I strive not because I deserve to succeed but because God gave me a second chance. I want so much to let my actions show my love and gratitude to him for his mercy and love.

Shedding the Stigma of Prison

Women’s Prison Opens at Hazelton

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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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