We just finished up working with our first person who was released from prison after being incarcerated for over eight years. My own words could not come close to describing her struggles and joys she is experiencing during her transition back into the community. Here are some of her blog entries, and you can see a video of Tanya here.
NOTE: These words and photos are Tanya’s.
11-25 My first day out and I’m running on pure adrenaline. Everything is bright, colorful, and simply overwhelming. I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’m nervous and excited at the same time. At the apartment my friends Tammy and Jodie have boxes of stuff for me. Clothes, slippers, nail polish (I can’t wait to paint my toenails) candy, quilting books, and more. It feels strange all this activity and celebrating. All I really want to do is hide. So far, my favorites are the Pepsi, nail polish and slippers. Devin made me a steak for dinner. It was fantastic. But now I’m starting to feel like I need to get back. Any minute now they are going to tell me it was a mistake and I need to go back to prison.
11-26 I couldn’t figure out why it felt so weird to eat. It was awkward. Then I realized how heavy my fork was. I have only used plastic ones for eight years.
12/15 Today I took a picture of my old phone. I found it in a box of things my father saved for me. It is nine years old. I laid it on the counter next to my new phone and took a picture. It just reminds me how much has changed in that amount of time. Things are so different now. It used to be rare and real expensive to have a cell phone. Now it’d be considered strange and behind the times not to have one. There is so much I’ve missed. I’m also reminded of a better time long ago before prison, before I became a felon. I wish I could go back.
12-16 Today I spent the day with my best friend. We went to the beauty supply store and bought all we need to dye her hair. I have my hair license. But the only place I’ve done hair is in prison. Now I felt like I was breaking a rule or something. I felt like I would get in trouble. Her hair turned out great and we laughed a lot. God I hope I can feel normal soon. Not like someone is watching me.
12-29 Today it snowed! It snowed like crazy. It was my first free snow. My friend and I acted like children. We stomped in it, threw it, laid in it and tipped out heads back to eat it as it fell from the sky. I was mesmerized about how it changed the appearance of everything. The last snow I saw was in prison. I think snow is the only thing that won’t stick to barbed wire. The prison was still ugly even covered in white. But this. This was beautiful. Tammy and I took pictures like we wanted to freeze every frame in our hearts. For some reason, I was struck by the sound of our feet crunching in the snow. We were free and for the first time I felt like it. It made me want to touch everything. I wanted to breathe in the moments and just live.
1-14 Today I went to “Dress For Success”. The lady brought me outfit after outfit to try on. I chose some pieces I could mix and match, shoes, a purse, earrings and an overcoat. It was very strange to receive these things for free. I wanted to get out of there before I got arrested for stealing or something. I’m very grateful. This trip took me on the East side of the river. That’s the farthest I’ve been from home on my own. The Max ride was ok but I didn’t relax until I got closer to home. I don’t remember ever feeling this way. I used to hop in the car and take off to S. California to see family. It felt natural to just go wherever I wanted. Now I feel out of sorts and like I’ve done something bad.
1-23 I need to get a job. It seems like society is not only hard on felons but extra hard on women. I know several men who got out of prison and got jobs right away. But the women I know (myself included) are still looking for work. The men also seem to be able to rent apartments faster. It took my friend Tammy a year to find a place that would rent to her. I wonder if society thinks we will be provided for because we are women or if they are less forgiving because we were good girls gone bad. Neither is true.
1-24 Today I finished a project I’d been putting off. I finished going through boxes of Harmony’s belongings. I was OK at first until I came across a box with her favorite blankets and dolls. Then I lost it. I clutched that doll to my chest as it it were my daughter and someone was going to take her from me. I couldn’t put it down. I ran my hand over its face and hair. I straightened its dress and clung to it more as I wept. I have no idea how much time passed. It felt like days. I forced my tears aside and kept sorting. I’d thought the worst was over until I found the book. Harmony’s friends at school and the teachers had a memorial for her. They put together a book for me of pictures the children had drawn about Harmony, how they felt and ow they missed her. There in front of me were pages and pages of drawings of a little blond girl on the swings. The drawing said things like: you were my friend, you pushed me on the swings, I miss you, why did you have to die, you are in heaven now…I thought I was going to die.