Incarceration is as much about learning about yourself as it is about others. In many ways understanding those around you is to discover yourself. The penitentiary can be a cruel place. Yet, it can also be a place of kindness and compassion. How you choose to experience it has everything to do with how you will experience it. When you seek goodness and kindness, goodness and kindness find you.
The early part of my incarceration was the most difficult. There was adversity, worry, fear. It’s like this for most everyone, but for some it’s even harder. How you carry yourself in those early days influences your entire sentence to come. Most importantly, it determines who you become. It’s true for both men and women.
Today’s guest writer Felicia is incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. She’s a bright beacon behind these walls. No matter how difficult her day is going, she see’s the beauty in the world and in others. She’s an inspiration to the women around her, and it’s a testament to her character. I am thankful to know her.
The Difference Between A Girl and A Woman In The Ohio Penitentiary System
Some of you may know little to nothing about the Ohio women’s correctional system. When you think of prison, what comes to mind (handcuffs, barbed wire fences, watch dogs, strict officers, solitary confinement, shackles)? Well at least that’s how I thought it was going to be like coming from someone who has never spent a day in jail prior to this case. So to say I was scared was an understatement.
In the movies, the ride to prison is long and dreadful. On May 21, 2019 after doing 16 months in one of the worst county jails, I rode out to Ohio Reformatory for Women. My ride to prison took 27 minutes and the song that was playing on the sheriff’s radio was “Here I Go Again: Whitesnake”. It seemed to fit the moment perfectly. Upon arrival my opinion changed rapidly. Shortly after I made it through the first few hours of humiliation. They made me expose my body, squat and cough in front of someone I have never met. I was informed of how long my hair and nails are to be, and what size clothes they “think” you should wear. I was being robbed of every bit of privacy I ever had.
While I made my way to my top bunk, everyone was staring and whispering about who I am due to my high profile case and the media running my name through the dirt. My whole life was put under a microscope, and when women get bored, they gossip. It soon started to feel like a version of the childrens game “telephone”. When I finally heard what was being said about me, I learned things about myself that I never even knew. It blows my mind how fast people can make a story up and make it worse than it already is.
Now I’ve been here at ORW for 17 months and let me say this; my opinion of what I thought prison was and what it actually is, is dramatically different. Every moment of our lives in here is put under the microscope and if you step across that imaginary line, there are consequences. Everything you do is on a time limit, and I have never been on time for anything. However, I am very punctual nowadays. I never thought I would say or compare prison to high school. Sometimes I wonder if the adolescents I went to high school with were more mature than some of the “adults” in prison. I say this because everyone is clicked up by groups. Example: popular, nerds, races, and then, of course, the gossip and comments about weight, looks, style, etc. It’s all about who has what. Who has money, the boxes coming in, the newest shoes, tablet etc. Who doesn’t have to go to the chow hall because they have bags of commissary.
How can you come to prison and be reformed when we are constantly in a race to fit in? When we don’t have the means to do so, we start beating ourselves up. We continue to be stuck in this mindset of what the next person has or what they are doing and being in competition to do better. I see it so much around me that it makes me say a special thank you to my mother for raising me to be confident, to not care what others have. As long as you have what you need, you can focus on yourself, and mind your own business. To this day if Mom hears any of us gossiping she will tell us to touch our noses.
I’ve never seen so many “women” act like girls. I’ve only met a handful of “ladies” here at ORW. My mindset is “just because we are in prison doesn’t mean we have to act like it.” But I feel like others think completely different. It is almost as if they have a thought process of “I’m already here, what more can happen”. It infuriates me to see so many women willing to bring each other down. We have already hit rock bottom and have so many people against us already. As if that’s not enough, we have to bring each other down to make ourselves feel better as well?
It’s an everyday struggle to try to stay on the right path. A lot of people want to try to take you out of character and bring you down to their level. I personally decided that the day I got here, I would refuse to pick up new habits. I have no plans to make a career out of coming to prison. I came here to do my time, to become a better mother, sister and daughter, but most importantly a better person. There are plenty of opportunities to help us better ourselves and to help us to have a brighter future, but so many women are set in their ways. They come to prison and continue to maintain the lifestyle that they had at home, just in a more confined space.
It honestly hurts me deeply to see so many women (our queens, mothers, sisters, daughters) lost in the system. It motivates me to push to do better for myself. After I had seen some of the things that had happened in here, it changed my outlook on life, and it made me want to strive to make the most out of every day in the most positive way possible.
I recently had a woman come up to me, and she said that I was an inspiration to her. I said thank you, but why? She said, because of the time I have left, I continue to walk around with my head held high and a smile on my face. It makes her realize that she can make it through the next 11 months she has left. She mentioned how I’m always giving compliments and being polite to even the ones who don’t deserve it. She said that the way people try to antagonize me and talk about my case; I don’t entertain it or give them a second thought. She told me I give her hope and she will continue to pray for me.
It actually brought a tear to my eyes because someone noticed that I am not like the rest. I am doing my time the way I want to. I will continue to carry myself with class and self-respect. The last thing that I want is for my kids to hear that I am in here fighting, getting high, and wallowing in a depressive state. I want to show them that I am trying. I want to make them proud to call me their mom even under the circumstances. If that makes me a wimp or scared in the eyes of other inmates, then so be it.
Unfortunately not everyone takes notice of the good. There is a woman in here that has it out for me since my first day in admissions. She says very hateful, mean and vulgar things to me about my case. However, at the end of the day, I do not entertain her because I know she is battling her own problems or past and choosing to take it out on me. So instead I decided to love her until she can learn to love herself.
Time is of the essence. You can either choose to do better or you can continue to float in and out of these “revolving doors” of our prison system. I think reform is something you have to want and is all within yourself. There is nothing COs, Sgt’s, Lt’s, or warden can say or do to fix you. It is something you have to want for yourself, and deciding that, is what sets the women apart from the girls.
Here is a quote that has helped me along my way with understanding people and how their intentions differ:
“Life doesn’t give you the people you want; it gives you the people you need to help you, to love you, to leave you, to hurt you and to help you grow into the person you are meant to be.”
So all the people that have crossed my path, and will continue to come in and out through these next 14 years, will be a lesson to me. Whether it is showing me who I do not want to be or showing me how I could change for the better.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and have a nice day.
Ohio Reformatory for women