While waiting for lunch yesterday, a sweet black woman came up to me with a big smile on her face. She said: “I’m leaving here soon Portia, I’m going to a different prison to do a program that will get me some time off my sentence.” I said: “That’s great! We will miss you, but I’m happy that you will be able to get back to your family sooner.” She told me, “Guess what? I’ve decided I’m going to leave prison amazing, and I’m going to do amazing things out there!” I replied, “That’s right buddy, you are amazing, and I have no doubt you will do amazing things out there!” Not coming back to prison isn’t a big enough goal for women to change their lives; there’s not enough strength behind it to overcome the challenges we face. It’s not a positive goal. Something bigger is needed, something worth fighting for! I think you have to believe life can get amazing for you to have the strength to swim against the current. You have to know  that you are valuable, and believe doing the right thing will bear fruit. Following the rules is good, but a change of heart is needed! A few weeks ago I was on a video visit with Chad, and he said: “Leaving prison amazing has become your battle cry hasn’t it?” I joked with him and said: “A battle cry is serious business, If I’m going to have a battle cry I better put some thought into it.” After this sweet lady in my unit told me she plans to leave prison amazing, I decided that will definitely be my battle cry! I want to empower women to leave prison amazing!

Incarceration rates have raised at an alarming rate in the US; we have close to 3 Million people incarcerated in our country right now, a number that has jumped drastically in the last 20 years. Recidivism is through the roof, meaning people keep coming back. They come back in spite of ridiculously lengthy sentences; they come back in spite of threats of harsher punishments; they come back because they don’t know how good life can be. Threats of more punishment aren’t working. I want to teach people to free themselves with principles. I want to give them hope, and help them find something to fight for. I had a girl in the CRC recently tell me that she knew if she screwed up again she would get a life sentence. I said: “What are you willing to do not to let that happen?” She told me: “I don’t know, I’m scared!” I said: “Do you believe you can have an amazing life, or are you just scared to come back to prison?” She said: “My parents were drug addicts, I grew up in the streets, we were homeless most of the time. I don’t even know what an amazing life looks like” I pulled a picture of my family out of a drawer, and said: “This is the amazing life I am fighting for.” She said: “Wow, you have a real family! That’s pretty cool, what’s it like to have a real family? I told her:” It’s beautiful! It’s worth everything you will have to do to get it and more.” One of my favorite authors Victor Hugo said: “There is nothing so powerful as an idea who’s time has come.” I believe in redemption, not retribution. I believe it’s time for women to leave prison amazing!

Today is our oldest son Jace’s birthday. I was emotional today while I was laying in my bunk thinking back to the person I was the day Jace was born. That was 28 years ago, and I remembered myself as a young insecure mother, who even then knew something wasn’t right inside of her. I remembered making a promise to my son before he was even born, that I would fight to give him a good life.  Jace has been such a blessing to our family. He’s a great example to his younger brothers and sisters, and one of my favorite people in the whole world! He is kind, and good, and determined to do the right things in his life; he has a tender spirit. This morning I remembered a crucial time when his kind heart was a great comfort to me. He was 8 years old, and I was at a turning point. I had made the decision to turn my life around, and was feeling the excruciating pain of my poor decisions. That day I was overcome with guilt and grief. I was in my room crying, and my little boy came to see if I was okay. He said: “Mom, what’s wrong, why are you so sad?” I told him: “I feel really bad right now buddy, I haven’t been a good mom to you, and feel like a really ugly person.” He said, “come look in the mirror with me mom.” I told him that I didn’t feel like looking in the mirror right now but he was adamant that I go with him, so I stood in front of a mirror, with a tear stained face, and my sweet boy told me how beautiful I was. He said: “Look at you mom, look how pretty you are. You are the most beautiful mom in the whole world.” He started giggling and said, “Look at me, I look like a great big teddy bear, but you look beautiful!” He gave me a hug, and said: “Please don’t be sad mom, I love you.” Jace, I hope that you have a birthday befitting of the valiant man that you are, and the sweet little boy that you were then. I love you buddy, and will always be grateful for the special moments we have shared. I’m still working on giving you the good life I promised you, but I won’t ever give up, and I plan to leave prison amazing!