Incarceration is traumatic. For women it’s particularly emotionally damaging. I guess if it’s true that women are emotional creatures by nature that would explain the damages to some extent. We do know that women are nurturers by nature. When women are in prison they are deprived of the opportunity to nurture their children, spouses and even their pets.
When I came home from prison I had an overwhelming need to be supported, complemented, trusted and to simply be held. It was annoying and frustrating, because prior to my incarceration I was never the type to be needy. I was independent to the core.
When I went to prison I was 19 years old. I spent 18 years incarcerated and after my release I was vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation and emotional abuse from the opposite sex. I found myself in a relationship where I was unhappy and trapped. I stayed there for two years. As I look back now I believe that my partner understood that I was emotionally starved and he took advantage of my desire for love, companionship and affection. Things didn’t work out with us and I then found myself in a string of bad courtships after we split.
One day while I was talking to my best friend about the relationship drama I was enduring she said, “That’s good. I’m happy. You are going through exactly what you should be going through. What do you think I’ve been going through while you were away? I had one bad relationship after another. Now I’m at a place in my life where I know what I want and I refuse to settle.” She smiled and said, “You are doing good Sister.” I was stunned, and I didn’t get what she was saying.
At the time, I felt like a 41-year-old woman trapped in the body of a young adult. I was emotionally vulnerable and wrecked inside. I believe incarceration really does stagnate one’s mental development. I was making some very bad decisions in my personal life.
The irony is that in every other aspect I was flourishing. I began a career in the field of reentry. I was pursuing my degree and rebuilding my life. People were expressing how proud they were of me, but they had no clue that I felt like crap inside.
Every time I dated someone I felt like I ran the risk of getting hurt. I became insecure and the intimacy was never real for me. I never felt like we were building, or progressing. We were simply going through the motions. Then, I began to feel guilty. I felt guilty for the choices I was making, guilty for the conditions I was creating in my life. I knew that no one could do anything to me that I didn’t allow. Eventually I decided I should just hang up my hat and get out of the dating game. “I’m not built for this.” I told my best friend. “I’m just not ready for this dating thing.” Again, she smiled and said, “You’re doing good sister.” I thought she was crazy.
Today after many hours of reflection and self-evaluation I have come to realize that everything that took place was simply a process I had to go through in order to experience my growing pains. I feel stronger today. I feel more confident that I am capable of choosing the right partner in life. I still have a lot of work to do. I still have a lot of healing to do.
The emotional deprivation I experienced while incarcerated had threatened my self-esteem and increased my sense of defenselessness. Today I know that I deserve the best and I am worthy to be loved. I know that it takes a special kind of man to love a broken woman. Thankfully for me I am mentally strong and spiritually conscious. My best friend was right, “I was going through exactly what I was supposed to go through.”