When I came to prison I was overwhelmed by the circumstances I was in. The food was unhealthy; I could only talk on the phone to my family for 300 minutes a month, and the lack of privacy, along with strip searches, were degrading to say the least. I told my husband that I couldn’t believe how insecure I felt.  I remember thinking that It’s unreasonable to feel this insecure; I felt like everything good that I ever did was gone; I am a number now, and most of the time I feel like a really bad person.” In short, I felt controlled by my environment. I was broken hearted, and couldn’t imagine how I would survive so much time away from my family; or so much time in an environment that was lacking the good I had always known. I was assigned a job in the kitchen, which I didn’t particularly like; so I made it my first order of business to get a different job. As soon as I started focusing on the things I could do, instead of the things I couldn’t do, my life improved. I knew that I was a good photographer, and it was within my power to write a curriculum for a photography class. I didn’t know if it would get approved, but I put my heart into planning for it, and my burdens became lighter. I also decided to tutor GED as a volunteer, and got a job as a clerk in education. I honestly felt a little intimidated by the GED curriculum, having little formal education; but I decided to do my best to help people, and again my situation improved. Focusing on the things that I could control, instead of the things that I couldn’t empowered me, and serving others brought me joy. I have learned valuable lessons in prison.  I have learned that my response to what happens to me is one of my most powerful choices.  Focusing on the things that I can control empowers me, and doing the best in the circumstances I am in can change my circumstances. I have also learned to love others in a way that I didn’t know was possible!

I had been in prison for 6 months when I took a class called “Explaining Your Conviction”. The teacher told me that he created the class after he was asked to be a juror in a criminal case.  He said: “I was shocked at what happened in the courtroom, and realized how traumatic the whole experience was.” He was a simple man who worked for the BOP for over 20 years when he retired. I was blessed to know him, and was also blessed to take over his class. While he was teaching he drew a picture of a person on a white board, and wrote the words “Happy Life”. He explained: “This was you before you walked into the courtroom.” Then he drew a picture of a person with a lightning bolt over their head, and said: “This was you the day you were sentenced; your life was changed forever that day.” Then he drew a picture of an ice cube, and said: “this is you now, you’re all on ice.” We laughed, because that’s exactly how it feels sometimes. He told us: “You’re remarkable! You stood in a courtroom, and had legal words thrown at you that you probably didn’t even understand. I’m guessing that you knew that what was happening to you was bad though, really really bad!” He said: “Then you were sent to prison, and stripped of your dignity, and identity, and now you’re treated like an animal. When I look at you I don’t see criminals, I just see women that could be my neighbors, strong women!” He helped us explain our convictions that day, and something magical happened. Something very human! Some of the women I knew with the toughest exteriors were laughing, and some were crying, and all of us were supporting each other. Explaining your Conviction is about seeing yourself differently; It’s about taking responsibility for what you did, and leaving the rest behind; It’s about empowering yourself!

Upon my arrival at Waseca I was assigned a job in the Career Resource Center, (CRC) CRC, and spent as much time as I could in the rec yard. One day a woman named Heidi came in to the CRC to work on her resume, and noticed that I was tearful. She asked me if she could give me a hug, and we became friends right away. Heidi told me later that she knew the first time she saw me that we would become friends. She said: “You’re a special person; I can see the light in you.” We started walking together, and in time I opened up to her. Both of us are fighters. Heidi told me: “The name Heidi means Battle Maiden. You better believe I’m a fighter!” I said: “That’s good because I’ve always consider myself a Warrior Princess.” We laugh a lot! Heidi and I started a support group at Waseca, and she also encouraged me to teach my first Explaining Your Conviction class here. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved at this prison, but she had people sign up anyway, and we’ve been going strong ever since. After my first class she told me: ” “Re-framing mistakes the way you do turns this experience around; it’s powerful!” Heidi is an accomplished goal oriented woman, and I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl; but both of us wanted to make a difference, so we started brainstorming. We recently started a workshop, and we teach “Explaining Your Conviction” the first week, a goal setting class the second week, and how to write a resume the third week. The class has been a success, and we are getting ready to double up so we can teach more women. After our last class I told one of the students that I was considering going to a minimum security camp, and she said: “Please don’t go, you make us feel so beautiful when you take our pictures, and the class you guys teach is better than all the other classes I’ve taken in prison put together. I wrote a life plan after your class, and went to my case worker asking for help to plan my future.” I love empowering women, and want them to know they get to decide how this ends!

Most of the women in prison come from difficult circumstances; they are hungry to hear the truth, and will make an impact for generations to come if they change their lives. I miss my family, but it’s a blessing to be here right now. I sat on a park bench yesterday with Heidi, and enjoyed a beautiful Mothers Day. I told her: “I don’t even feel like I’m in prison anymore, I am happy; I have freed myself! I know I am a good Mother, and I’m doing the best I can in the circumstances I am in.” Heidi said: “That is really good to hear. It is a beautiful day, and we are blessed to share this moment.” My husband sent me a sweet email yesterday that said: “Of all your amazing attributes your influence as a mother surpasses them all! You have endured this challenge with strength, and grace. You have been an example of faith, endurance, and patience, and the lessons you have taught our children will benefit them for life.” He’s a pretty good husband:) I hope you all know how much I appreciate your support. I have been through a lot, and feel very blessed to feel loved by so many good people. Thank you all for following along:)