Michelle, 41

Meet Michelle..

“Just because I am wearing green and hidden from society, inside this cell, does not make me a monster or a bad lady.”

Michelle, 41

Incarcerated: 2 ½ years

Housed: Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, New York

As I sat in this eight by ten-foot cell, locked in for daily count, I began to ask myself, “Where did I go wrong?” I’m aware of my crime and who I’ve hurt, and I take full responsibility for being incarcerated. Yet the same question blows around in my mind like a storm. Was it when I was born on drugs, taken from my biological mother, and placed into the foster care system only just a first few breaths in this world? Was it when my mother’s boyfriend was molesting me during unsupervised visits at the age of eleven? I was afraid to tell because I would never see my mother again, so I endured his abuse for years. Was it when I and all my belongings were in another CPS worker’s trunk, and I was off to another foster home family? As I looked out the window each time, I’d ask myself, “Will this family care? Will I be able to trust anyone?” Was it when I lost my brother in the system that separated us? He was adopted, and his name was changed, never to see him again?! Was it when my biological mom pushed on the plunger of a syringe and released drugs into my system at 13 years old, and all I wanted was her love? Was it when I felt so alone in this big world and had no one I thought I could trust? Was it when my biological mother passed from liver failure, and I could never tell her, “I forgive you, Mom, and I love you?” Was it when the one man I believed loved me broke my ribs? Was it maybe when I stood outside my home of ten years and watched everything  I worked so hard to burn to ashes? Or perhaps it was when I walked into my daughter’s room to see the man I laid next to for 13 years molesting my firstborn daughter? He was immediately put into jail, where he is today! Sometimes I ask, “God, why am I here?” Why was I put through so much pain, hurt, and disloyalty? Since I was in prison, I have found God, and he is my higher power. He helps me get up and put my feet on the floor each day, the strength to embrace whatever or whoever may cross my path each day, whether in prison or the world. I can’t quite pinpoint when or where it began to go wrong for Michelle, but what I can do is move forward. I want to be a good mother, a trustworthy friend, a loyal wife, a patient listener, an on-time employee, and an average citizen. I want to be someone I’ve never tried to be, and that’s a WHOLE NEW ME! Sitting in this cell, my own little hell can be turned around into a place of growth, my own little sanctuary, a place and a time to be a better woman today than I was yesterday. Just because I am wearing green and hidden from society inside this cell does not make me a monster or a bad lady. It’s giving me time to heal and be a new, more beautiful woman every day moving forward. I am not what I’ve been through. Thank you for listening to my story.

 

Chris, 53

Meet Chris…

“It was about the six seconds of compassion that my foster sister showed me and the courage to let her compassion flow through me.”

Chris, 53

Incarcerated: 17 years

Housed: San Quentin

I was shocked. My words had betrayed me. Words that rose from a place I didn’t know existed, “I’ll cut your hair,” I offered, and with those words, I violated the hard knocks street rule of minding my own business. Yet, it didn’t feel like I had broken a cardinal rule. It felt, well … right, like I was connected to this man’s suffering in a way that reminded me of my own. He was thin and unimposing. He had an unkempt afro and a long, ragged beard. All he wanted was a haircut so he could appear presentable before a judge the next day. Yet, none of the barbers would touch him. He couldn’t afford to pay for the store items they wanted. That’s when those four fateful words leaped from my mouth and landed in his ear. He turned to look at me and told me that he didn’t have any way to pay me. “That’s okay,” I said. I then spent the next three hours meticulously trimming his hair and beard. I had no experience as a barber, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was to humanize him to the judge, to himself, and to the barbers who had written him off. I know what it’s like to be written off; to be forgotten. My childhood and prison sentence tell me so. He shook my hand and thanked me, expressing gratitude towards a man that not even I had ever met. Something shifted inside of me as a result of that experience. It blessed me with a life-changing glimpse of the man I wanted to become: compassionate, connected, and courageous. Fourteen years have passed since that day and I have been cutting hair for free ever since. Each haircut lures me deeper, more intimately into my humanness and that of others. Every conversation reveals our sameness and stirs within me a deep sense of remorse for the harm I caused to people who were just like me.

Receive more inspiring stories and news from incarcerated people around the world.