“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
James 16:33, KJV
“See, to live is to suffer, but to survive? Well, that’s to find the meaning in the suffering…”
DMX, “Slippin'”, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, 1998
First things first, I Shaunna, do solemnly swear
that I’m the same chick, in the pic
with the wild hair,
and the orange jumpsuit, no doubt,
I got clout and I know what I’m talkin’ about,
’cause I’m out and tryna keep some folk from going in
Promise you can’t win, if you go to the pen.
Spend the rest of yo’ life tryna pay for that sin…
Shout out to the Obama administration for the decision to early release over 6000 non-violent drug offenders from federal prisons across the U.S. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I don’t believe in coincidence, I believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason. The decision to rename and revamp last week’s post, The Glamorous Life: Shaunna’s Redemption, consumed my thoughts like an infestation. Thanks to President Obama and a few loyal readers, I am compelled to elaborate on my prison experience. Last week, I shared the story of the day I received my sentence, a day I commonly refer to as “My Downfall.” It was truly one of the saddest days of my life.
As I explained in part 1, I received a 120-day review, which meant I had to participate in a program called Female Offender Regimented Training, better known as F.O.R.T. It was basically boot camp for prisoners. At the end of your 4 month sentence, you would stand before the judge again to meet your fate: go back home or go back to prison. If you earned a certificate of completion during your 120-day review, most judges let you go home. Now, if you didn’t complete the program within those 120 days, the judge had the option to send you back to F.O.R.T. to finish the program. The way I saw it, I would be home by the end of February, with just enough time to celebrate Black History Month.
Or so I thought.
After being officially entered into the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (when I got my DOC number-269590), I was mistakenly sent to the wrong facility. It didn’t bother me though, because the prison administrators told me that I could have a visit from my family for the Thanksgiving holiday. I had never been so happy to see my people in all my life. And they surprised me by bringing my grandfather, who me and all my cousins called, Papa. I cried when Papa hugged me, because I was so ashamed of myself. No other grandchild of his had been to the penitentiary before (and so far, I am the only one to have gone). He made me dry my tears and told me to stop crying. He told me that EVERYONE makes mistakes and just like God, he still loved me. He promised that we would have a big celebration when I got out and he would show me how to do the Marcarena. I had no idea that I would never see my Papa again.
A little over a month later, the DOC had finally gotten me situated at the right place to complete my sentence. I had started the F.O.R.T. program already, along with the countdown to my release date. One night, I called my Dad to check in and he told me Papa had passed away and now they were making funeral arrangements. I chose not to attend my Papa’s service because I didn’t want to further embarrass my family or create a spectacle of myself for the guests by showing up in an orange jumpsuit and shackles. That just wasn’t the image that I wanted the world to see, not at my Papa’s funeral. I dealt with his death without the comfort of my family and realized the magnitude of my mistake. I didn’t just hurt myself by getting locked up, I hurt everybody who loved me. My heart ached inside and I just wanted to go home.
When I finally reached my 120 days, Judge Jesse Harris denied my freedom because I had not earned a certificate of completion from the F.O.R.T. program.
I almost lost my mind in that courtroom that day.
If DOC would have sent me to the correct facility out the gate, I would have obtained my completion within 120 days! But then again, I hadn’t seen the blessing behind that faux pas–God had granted me the opportunity to see my Papa one last time, and for that, I was (and still am) truly grateful. So, my hopes of sleeping in my own, real bed quickly dissolved into the tears that I shed during my two-hour bus ride back to F.O.R.T. I spent 3 more weeks there before I finally got to come home on March 19, 1999.
To this day, I still feel very guilty for not attending my Papa’s funeral. To this day, I still say yes and no ma’am/sir when I talk to people (a F.O.R.T. developed habit). And to this very day, I still can’t shake that thuggish image prospective employers see, once they find that felony conviction on my background check. It amazes me how “the system” expects you to get out of prison, find a job and become a contributing taxpayer in society once again, like it’s an easy task! I thought being a college graduate would allow me some leeway–I thought wrong. People truly judge you if you are an ex-con, no matter what you did, no matter how long ago, no matter how much you’ve changed. It is what it is. I just try to keep my head up, remember what my Papa told me years ago and take comfort in knowing that God will never put more on me than I can bear. Until next time…