I think that I’ve spent half my life making mistakes, and the other half trying to avoid the consequences.  The pain and suffering necessary to overcome those mistakes. I hated to suffer, and would do anything to protect the people I love from suffering often at my expense. There’s strength in suffering and struggle.   Even dignity and growth come with walking through pain. My sweet roommate Sonia has been struggling with a very difficult situation at home.  She is a great example of humility, and forgiveness; She is a Queen! A few days ago I sat with Sonia and listened as she shared some of her burdens.  She is Catholic, and has a great faith in God’s love and mercy. But her pain was deep, and I didn’t know how to help her.  I prayed, “Father, my friend is hurting, and I don’t know what to say. I love her, and want to help her, please help me know how to comfort her.” After I said the prayer a woman who lives in the room next to ours, who is also a devout Catholic, came into our room very excited that she was having a visit with her daughter and grandchild. As soon as she looked at Sonia and saw her pain, she wrapped her arms around her and began to pray. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she looked up at me and said, “Oh Portia, this is too hard for her to bear, she is suffering so deeply, she feels so alone, we have to pray more for her!” She stood there for several minutes embracing Sonia, and comforting her; then she kissed her on the forehead, and said “God be with you friend, I have to go now.” As she walked out of the room I thought: “I am a blessed woman to have witnessed something so beautiful!”

Great transformations can occur when we suffer. The day I was sentenced was life changing.  There was a moment in the courtroom where everything went silent; a moment that I felt completely alone.  Everything seemed to be in slow motion, the noise was gone, and I thought it was strange that I felt so much peace. In that moment, I realized that I had never been alone. I looked back at my family and thought: “How beautiful they are!” I wanted to tell them that I knew it was all going to be okay,  and that God was with us. We are so much closer to Him than we think. There aren’t words for the feelings I had. Our friends didn’t know what to say; they were devastated! Their willingness to walk through that moment with us was beautiful. I learned that day what it means to be a friend. The people who loved us were willing to stand with us as we suffered. They couldn’t take our pain away; but we knew their hearts were with us, and that was the greatest form of love they could give!

It was through that suffering that I decided I was going to leave prison an amazing person. A goal that has given me the perseverance to overcome many of my greatest obstacles. A decision born through suffering has made all the difference. I fought so hard to avoid prison, and had nothing left to give my family except who I would become. In my darkest hour I found empowerment, it was only a seed, but I planted it and nourished it and it has given me strength to keep going.  One foot in front of the other. My first step to becoming an amazing person was to be honest with myself. I couldn’t begin if I didn’t know where I was starting from? Next came taking responsibility for my life, past and future. I couldn’t be free if I didn’t accept total responsibility. And that was how I took my power back! Once I knew that I was, where I was, because of my choices; my responses were choices too, and I was responsible for them.  I know that I can decide my future. Taking responsibility also brought gratitude. I am grateful now for the food the prison provides, the room I sleep in, and many of the other blessing I have. I don’t blame anyone else that I’m here because I am free! Thank you all for standing by me in my moments of strength, and my moments of suffering. Your prayers have buoyed me up.  There is real power in prayer, I have felt it comfort me greatly recently and I am honored to consider all of you my friends. I pray we will all continue on this journey, and become the amazing people we were meant to be!