A letter to the women in prison

To the women in prison,

I don’t know you. I don’t know your story or how you got here. And yet a part of me feels I know you already.

My sense is it went down something like this:

Something was taken from you. Violated, controlled, pushed into a corner, neglected, and/or abused, your sense of self, the worth of who you are as a human, the value of your life was stolen.

As was the innocence. The trust. The faith that this life could offer safety, security, care.

With those quickly eroded, what else is there?

There you were, alone, in the dark, not sure where to go or what to turn to.

Then something or someone came along that felt like this could be ‘it’. This could be your savior. Somebody promising you the world. An opportunity that felt like a winning lotto ticket. A substance that could take away the pain and make you feel normal again.

Part of you knew the promise wasn’t 100% true, the relief was only temporary, and the lotto ticket came with risks that could open up doors with even more darkness hidden behind them.

But anything to survive; to get out of from under the grips of the shame and despair; even if it meant selling your soul. Anything to have a taste of self-respect again, even if it came with a ridiculous price.

You try it. Agree to the terms. Say Yes. Just once.

It’s not so bad. A small amount of relief trickles in. Not enough to undo everything, but just enough to make you want more.

You say Yes again. You think you’ve got it under control. You can stop when you want to. Say No next time.

But why would you? I mean, this is starting to become an easier solution to the problem than you thought. No one’s really noticing. Your life hasn’t turned upside down like disclaimer said it might. Plus, life was already an out of control rollercoaster, how could it get any worse.

Then one day you wake up, and it’s all fallen apart. You are a living a life that is no longer yours. Sure, you’re the one breathing, but you’re just drifting along, not really sure what’s real anymore.

What was it that was so bad that I was trying to escape from? Why was it that I thought this was the golden ticket? I can’t stop now, I’m too far in, but where do I go? I can’t go back to where I came from, but if I stay here, I’ll end up dead.

And then the doorbell rings, the sirens blare, the handcuffs slide on.

Your worst nightmare comes true. Guilty. Convicted. Your freedom taken away.

But can I ask you? Did you ever really feel free?

I never did.

The cyclone of self-doubt, the hurricane of shame. The fear that chased me in my dreams, that I tried to run away from every moment I was awake.

My drug was food. My cover up was exercise. My crime was harming my body with both. Stealing from others so I could get my fix when my own stock and supply was low. Living a lie to cover my tracks.

That life was a prison. I was not free to be me.

Yes, I had freedoms. I had choice of where to live, what job to do, who to date, what to wear. I could come and go as I pleased in this world.

I couldn’t escape from me though. Everywhere I went, no matter what I did, there I was.

Saying Yes to things I didn’t actually want to do because I thought they would keep me safe. Saying No to things that I longed for because I didn’t think I was worthy or deserving. Choice after choice, I put up bar after bar around me, and soon my life felt like a cage.

What do caged animals do?

At first you fight. Hard. You pace, you roar, you thrash against the bars trying to get the hell out of there. Sometimes the fight ends up hurting yourself or others.

And then you find yourself in a different kind of cage.

Cage surrounding cage, surrounding cage, surrounding cage.

Then what?

When you reach bottom, there are two choices; stay where you are and harden in a pool of bitterness, or surrender to the brokenness.

Sometimes the breakdown is the biggest blessing. Life presses the Pause button for you so you can’t keep hurting yourself. It gives you a different set of circumstances; a practice ground to start making a new choices from.

A second chance. It doesn’t erase the past. It doesn’t make the pain go away. If anything, in the silence and stillness the pain gets worse. It’s also in that same place where you can start to hear yourself. The real you at the core of all those cages.

The part of you that wants to say Yes to what you know is good for you. Is dying to let out a raging NO! to what you know harms you. The part of you that actually does know how to keep yourself safe.

This is the part of you to pay attention to. Fight however you must to give it a voice. Anything that has a familiar yet forgotten scent, or gives you a taste of who you know yourself to be; keep chewing on that. You feed that part of you like you would a crying baby.

You love up on that baby girl like there is no tomorrow.

You let her cry her eyes out. And then, pray to God, you let her sing.

Dear women in prison; I see you, I hear you, I am you.

Let us dance. Let us sing.

Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

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