Against the Grain by Ashleigh Smith

Michigan Department of Corrections has truth in sentencing. What that means in reality is that you will be incarcerated for every single day on the front of your sentence (for me that equates to 18 years on my 18-50) before the state will even consider you for parole. The darker, underlying truth lurking below the surface that takes first hand experience is, well I believe Dante said it best at the gates of Purgatory “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

There’s no hope for ‘good time’ or ‘disciplinary credits’ to the 38,000+ inmates trapped within the state’s prisons. No hope has the domino effect of snuffing out the appeal of fighting for placement in core groups, meeting educational and vocational requirements, and staying clear of any disciplinary trouble. After all, the system is akin to the house in Vegas in that it always wins. It has you laced up tight no matter what you do with your dead time. I served 11 years of my life before I was eligible for college. In other words, I waited around for a decade before my time was deemed appropriately short enough to gain knowledge. To make a positive change towards my future freedom. Not because that’s how it had to be, but simply because that’s how they had it set up.

I’ve been jaded from a young age, seeing and feeling painful reactions of others when your life is set up against the grain, against the norm. I lived in a small town, and was guilty of the infraction of only being raised by my dad. No applause from anybody witnessing my dad fight for his two daughters and then raising them alone. Just judgement for how it seemed; different. Then whispers about him smoking cigarettes. and no ‘cigarettes’ aren’t a code word for heroin. And finally, the polite denials to invites for friends to sleep over, with a quick “our house” instead thrown in for good manners. The insanity of a single man raising his own children, for shame!

My dad (God rest his soul) never flinched. He instilled lessons in me for the future war my existence would become. Always reminding me when I complained that ‘somebody has a worse story’. He was right, in fact lots of somebody’s had a worse story. I had an amazing childhood and knew I was safe, taken care of, and loved.

So when I walked through the threshold of Women’s Huron Valley, I didn’t get the memo from Dante to abandon all hope. I bucked against the norm, like my dad had shown me to do. I didn’t make it a habit to lean on others but stood on my own two feet, and kept that light inside of me shining bright. There were of course times when I slipped into the alluring pull of the mass, the hopeless conformity that makes up the majority. But lessons ingrained in me, tattooed on my very soul, kept me on the outside. Uncomfortable. What a beautiful identifier to describe how I’ve always felt here. I don’t want to fit in, to abandon everything that makes me essentially me.

My dad taught me these lessons so I’d be prepared for life. And prepared I’ve been, squeezing into every positive group, class, and mindset I could find. Waiting for the day when I would count. That day I’ve hoped for is coming, 3 1/2 years until my ERD and suddenly the Attorney General’s office reopens my file.

If I hadn’t been fighting to do better, to be better, to be the only seer of my fate, I’d be lost. I’d be unprepared for my hard work and hope to manifest before my very eyes. To carry me out of here, where I belong.

Ashleigh Smith (WHV) (MI)

*I created Lettersfromchristopher in 2019 to draw attention to the plight of America’s incarcerated. Please, submit a comment if your heart moves you. Your thoughts and words are refreshing wells of relief, and the writers of this blog express gratitude for your kindness.

Read more of Ashleigh’s posts by typing “Ashleigh” into the search function at the top of this page.


6 thoughts on “Against the Grain by Ashleigh Smith

  1. christopherm001

    What do you think incarcerated people do with their time, when they are rejected out of hand for enrollment into groups and programs, on account of the time remaining on their sentence?

    Ashleigh’s essay illustrates the frustration thousands of incarcerated people suffer who want to better themselves through programs offered at their facility. She’s a strong woman who has persevered, but most men and women lack her strength.

    To answer the question I posed above, the end result are men and women giving up on the path of reform. They then return to society worse off for it. –Christopher

    *Posted by admin on behalf of Christopher

  2. Sky Rainn

    In California it is worse than Michigan. There is no meaningful effort to help and it’s no wonder crime here is nuts. Someone needs to listen to women like this lady.

  3. allencombs947

    My son has been on waiting lists for years. We’ve tried calling his counselor to get him into programs he wants to be a part of but they are offered to the shorter time men. It makes no sense because it will always be the case, there’s always someone with a shorter sentence.

    My wife and I worry about our son having down time. He’s doing his best and trying but there needs to be more help for the long sentence men.

  4. allencombs947

    My son is in the same position and has been on waiting lists for years to be in programs that he needs. We’ve talked to his counselor and she said she would move him up the list but he has yet to be selected.

    My wife and I worry about his down time. Even though he’s doing well in there. There needs to be more focus on long sentences more meaningful focus.

  5. tlu96769

    I’ve been reading your stories for a while and they are vulnerable posts with courage sadness strength that I wish all of us had. That system is flawed for sure Ashleigh, but you aren’t. Remember that.

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