I think one of the most challenging aspects off incarceration is coping. Coping with what? Well, that list is long: Coping with your situation, with the realization that your friends were only fair weathered; coping with the fact that even some in family have abandoned you. It’s a common truth and is seldom spoken about.. For those of us enduring lengthy sentences, the journey early on is about struggle and discovery. Some of what’s discovered is very painful.
Men and women prisoners struggle with similar issues. Yet you’ll rarely hear about the struggles and thoughts of women prisoners, but they exist nonetheless. Quietly suffering.
Us men are more likely to externalize our experience. We tend to vocalize our thoughts and thus draw attention to them. Women tend to internalize to the point of silence. Once behind bars, it’s a silence th
at’s deafening. When unaddressed, it can be mentally destruc
tive and have long standing consequences.
If only the outside world would be willing to listen to the silence.
The Thunder of Silence
There’s 48,000 men and women incarcerated in our Ohio penitentiaries. We have all done something to get here, or maybe it was som
ething we didn’t do (wrong place, wrong time, getting involved with the wrong crowds). However, the one thing I can say is that there are a lot of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters long forgotten about. Out of sight out of mind.
A very common thing I have noticed in my 3 years I’ve been locked up is th
at family and friends come and go. It’s like that forgotten toy when you were a child. You forget about it until there is a conversation or picture, and then all of a sudden you seek it out.
The same is
true for the way people treat us. Months and years can pass by, and then all of a sudden out of the blue, you hear from them with a long list of excuses about why they haven’t been in touch. W
hich, I understand. I have an uncle who has been incarcerated for 27 years, and when I was home, I rarely wrote, took his calls etc. I deserve the title for the worst niece ever because for years it was like that. He doesn’t even recall the little conversation we had, that’s how rare they were.
Here I arrive to ORW, and I decide to send my uncle a note, letting him know what happened etc. You would think that he would feel some res
entment toward me or just leave me to do this alone. But he didn’t. He wrote back immediately, and we picked up right where we left off years ago.
cle is one of the only people I have walking this journey with me. He helps to educate me about the do’s and don’ts of prison survival and continues to love me. I feel so undeserving.
When I was home, I allowed life to grab ahold of me. I was one of the very people I’m speaking of, but because I was I now understand. I don’t hold grudges against any of them. I’ve simply lowered my expectations so that they don’t have the power to let me down. That way, when I do hear from them, I take it as a blessing.
n I was home I did what was needed and wanted by family and friends. I had it in my head that when I got arrested I would be okay. I am a woman of my word and was always a friend to everyone.
I thought I would be able to do this time with ease because I had a supportive loving family. Then harsh reality hit me. Just because I was a frien
d to everyone didn’t mean they remained a friend to me. What you do for others doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do for you.
No matter how much good you’ve done in your life, the moment you come to prison, all of those positive thoughts, your reputation, everything disintegrates. All that remains is the act that landed you her
I say all
of this because at the end of the day, you never truly know who your real friends and family are until those relationships are tried and tested.
Every choice changed the road you were on, and it was too easy to end up going in the wrong direction.
Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW)