I have come to know more women at Waseca as a photographer than I probably would have any other way.  It’s not unusual for women to stop me on the compound and thank me for taking their pictures.  On Friday a woman stopped me, grabbed both of my hands, and very seriously said, “You are a really good photographer. You made me so look beautiful in my pictures, and you made me feel beautiful too!” I do my best with each girl to make them look and feel beautiful, and I always try to treat them with dignity and respect. While I was working yesterday a group of women came from my unit to have their pictures taken and they were very excited.  I took extra care to make sure their pictures were beautiful! They wanted several pictures of themselves individually, and then asked me to do some group shots. Halfway through their sitting some of the women started posing in ways that I found inappropriate and it hurt my heart to hear them talking about the purpose of their pictures, and the men they planned to send them to.  When I got back to our unit my room mate Sonia could tell that I was a little down, and asked me what was wrong? She said, “I can tell something is wrong with you Ms. Portia; I can see it on your face, and I can feel it in my heart.” I told her that I was sad that so many of the woman here don’t value themselves.  My relationship with Chad is such a strength to me; why don’t the women want more for themselves?  Why can’t they see their true potential? Sonia responded, “Oh Ms. Portia, I wish things were different here too.”  Sometimes I see the women as innocent ladies planning a Halloween party, and other times I feel sad that they are caught up in things that will never bring them happiness.

It’s Sunday morning, and I feel deeply humble. I have felt our Savior Jesus Christ wrap His loving arms around me, and comfort me this morning. I have been thinking back to all the things our family has been through, and how our Savior has healed our broken hearts! I’ve made so many mistakes, been in so many bad situations; but He has never forsaken me!  It hurts me that my family has suffered because of my mistakes and it humbles me that we have been so blessed despite my weaknesses. We have experienced great blessings along this journey, along with deep heartache and pain.  Shelby sent me a note a while back that said, “Mom, I feel closer to you than I ever have, and that’s all I ever wanted! You are the strongest person I know, and I am proud to be your daughter.”  What more could a mother ask for!  Jackson wrote me a message recently that said, “Mom, you are the person I look up to most in this world. I love you more each day, and can’t wait to spend time together again. ” He touched my heart in a very special way that day! CJ wrote a letter to Santa Clause last week that said: “Santa, I really want an Iphone 7 for Christmas or a 6 or a 5 (I guess any iphone will do:) and I would love to have a big shiny diamond too, but it doesn’t have to be real and what I want most of all for Christmas is my Mom to come home, but If my mom can’t come home will you please get me a stuffed animal.  And Santa, is there anything you want for Christmas?” She might be the coolest 9 year old on the planet!

Prison doesn’t have the best environment; there are things that go on in prison that I don’t talk about in blog posts; things that would only trouble you. I have learned if I focus on the negative things it only makes things harder for me.  I try very hard to see the positive around me and in others. My county jail experience was terrible! Tongue cannot describe the pain and suffering I went through in county jail; it was devastating! I was so mentally compromised, that I literally feared for my life, but I realize now that my actions played a big part in what happened to me, even in county jail.  If my response to what was happening to me would have been different things would have turned out differently. The way I respond to what happens to me has become the most important freedom I have. We all go through things that are unfair, but how we respond to what we go through will chart the course of our life! I have worked very hard in prison to make the best of my situation; I am honest, hard working, and do my best to serve others. My choice to live a life of integrity in prison has given me many opportunities: I’ve been blessed with fulfilling jobs, I’ve been trusted by staff members, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some amazing people! I hope I’ve been able to make a difference.  I know that my life will forever be changed by this experience! When we come to prison we are all equal, our social class or business accolades mean nothing here because we wear the same clothes, and we are treated pretty much the same by staff members. The titles and accomplishments from our former life won’t help us here.  We are all a number, and it’s up to us to make a new life for ourselves! I’ve met some highly educated women in prison who have struggled to get a job in education and I’ve met some hard working, uneducated women who work in education and do some amazing things to help others. I have met humble souls who work in the kitchen and have found a way to carve out a special place for themselves. I think it’s cool that we all get to start from ground zero here and it’s up to us to decide what to make of this experience. Many women in prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but in prison we all have the same opportunities!

When I was sentenced my heart literally broke! I can’t describe the pain I felt at the thought of being separated from my family for 7 years! Though the pain was excruciating, I could feel the strength God wanted to give me, and I made a decision to make the best of my situation.  I knew that I wanted to make my family proud, and I knew my options were limited. After sentencing I met with our Bishop to go through the proper channels of repentance.  A Bishop in the Mormon church is a leader who is authorized to help the members in his Ward go through the repentance process. I shed many tears in our meeting, and shared my mistakes and weaknesses with him. I told him that the pain and vulnerability I have felt through this experience has seared the love I have for Chad into my heart. The respect I have for him is without bounds! I admire the sacrifices he has been willing to make for our family, and will forever be in his debt!” It was a beautiful experience to be in front a man who is authorized by our Father in Heaven as a judge; a man who wanted to help me come to our Savior and be healed. I will forever be grateful for that sacred experience! I read an article recently that I really liked. It was in a Mormon publication called the ensign, and titled: Christmas Peace In The Midst Of War. It said: “I spent the holiday as a prisoner among strangers, but the message of Christ’s birth reminded me that we are all God’s children.” I really enjoyed the article. It was about a man held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II and even though our situations are much different there are comparisons and  I found comfort in the authors words. I thought that I may be spending the holiday as a prisoner here; but we are all God’s children and He won’t leave me without His comfort.  I miss my family terribly, but I find great hope and comfort in the healing power of Jesus Christ, and I testify that power is available to all of us!  I pray you will feel my love this Christmas season, and know that reading my blog makes a difference in my life:)