Incarcerated 15 years
Free since June 2015
Describe your life today.
My life today is busy, filled with potty training, laughter and love. I spend a lot of time running around and looking for lost items. But still, my house is so clean and peaceful. Our existence in my two-bedroom, dog-friendly home is safe and happy.
Of course, with life comes troubles. I am far from perfect, but I have found a happy-medium between busy and bored while juggling all my responsibilities and an energy-filled, 2-year-old daughter, Zion. We live in a quiet neighborhood. Zion has a pink, magical room filled with a castle, cool night lights and many bedtime books. Our two dogs own the house and have a great big, fenced-in yard. They are Zion’s best friends.
Sometimes I get chills and cry because life is wonderful. Other times, I scream in my pillow. But I love my life. I know that I cannot make up for lost time, but I can be the change I wish to see in the world.
What are you most proud of since you’ve been free?
I am most proud of my children: my daughter, Hailey; my son, Tristan; and my baby daughter, Zion. It’s a blessing to be with them and to be forgiven. I’m proud of the opportunity to be the mother I always knew I was destined to be. There is no greater joy than watching Zion’s eyes light up when I teach her something new, or her little voice saying, “I love you, Mommy, so much.”
I am equally proud that I did my 15 years in prison and never turned bitter. I am proud that I still love life through and after all the pain, and I wholeheartedly owe this to Truth Be Told. Through their healing classes and freeing talks, I learned peace in an unpeaceful place.
How does your past incarceration still affect your life today — negatively and/or positively?
My past incarceration still affects my life today because I feel inferior. Oftentimes, I feel scared of being judged. It holds me back from going after jobs I know I am capable of. My personal fears are not the only things that hold me back. My past incarceration has stopped us before from renting houses. It causes me a lot of stress, trying to prove to society that I can have a positive effect on the world and the people around me.
But, on the positive side, because I was incarcerated, I am much more grateful for everything I am afforded. I help others faster than people who have not been touched by the (criminal justice) system in some way. I understand how it feels to go to bed hungry or feel like nobody cares, and I share a lot of my heart and my past with people. I offer a lot of wisdom and strength through recovery and forgiveness. I am able to not only talk about my change, but I can show it in my life and in my good choices and my forgiveness also.
What Truth Be Told program did you experience while incarcerated, and what did you gain from that experience?
I took Truth Be Told’s Talk to Me program and it blew my mind! It inspired me to want to save myself and the world, one tear wiped away at a time. Tears of shame, regret, abuse and longing were shed in that classroom by strong women. We uplifted and empowered each other through love, forgiveness and understanding. I have never felt freer than in that circle of safe community inside prison.
I remember being chosen by my classmates to share my story, my truth, at graduation before a group of volunteers who came from outside the prison. While giving my speech to this group of strangers and letting others look into my heart and know my truth, I felt amazing and terrified at the same time. Once I told my story and accepted that I was hurt — and that I hurt people — forgiveness and change came easily.
Last year, I received my Truth Be Told anniversary quilt in front of ladies who were standing exactly where I once was. I remember feeling tears of pride and hope rolling down my face, for myself and for my fellow sisters. Yet again, I was reminded of the beauty of the Talk to Me program and the community and the strength in every single one of us.
(Editor’s note: Program graduates who stay connected to Truth Be Told after their incarceration receive a handmade quilt upon their three-year anniversary of freedom. Melissa received her quilt the day she voluntarily returned to Lockhart Correctional to speak to women currently enrolled in the Talk to Me program.)
How does Truth Be Told continue to influence your life?
Truth Be Told continues to influence and affect my life in so many ways. I practice Truth Be Told’s 4 Cs daily: Communication, Creativity, Caring for self and Community. I fully know that had I never taken this program, I would have set forth on a different path — maybe even stayed on my self-hate and unworthiness, had I never been touched by this program. I believe this class — and the safe community it offers after incarceration — saved my life.
I am honored to be a part of Truth Be Told’s Beyond Bars program. I volunteer my time and share my story at Truth Be Told events in the community. I stay connected to other program graduates through a private Facebook group they offer for just us graduates (who have been released from prison). I have had the honor of going back into Lockhart women’s prison to speak to women who are in the program now.
Also, (Executive Director) Katie Ford, who was one of my facilitators at Lockhart, often still checks on me and encourages me. I call her my mentor. I don’t know if she even knows this, but when we talk on the phone, I literally take notes — not because she’s the smartest person in the world or has all the answers, but because she offers compassion, experience and empowerment. And to me, that is the embodiment of the program.
Why is Truth Be Told important and worth supporting?
Truth Be Told is life-saving! I spent 15 years in prison, and I took every single class there was to take. None compared to the tools I learned in Truth Be Told. I had real-life feelings and needed real-life healing. The memories, forgiveness, compassion, freedom, the empowerment and the tools I learned — and still practice daily — show the wisdom and proof of the need for classes like this in women’s prisons.
Describe the women you met in prison.
Whew! My eyes fill with tears as I remember my friends and the ladies I left behind there. They are just like you and me. We all cry. We all dream. We feel love deeply, and we hurt even more so — and we make mistakes. It’s the growth and change that matters, and that is how Truth Be Told classes bridge the prison life and the free life.
I wish I could explain the bonds built and the love I feel for the ladies I met, but when I try, I get overwhelmed with feelings. I grew up in prison basically, from age 21 until I was 35. I was charged at the age of 16 with my first-ever charge — and my last, heaven help me. I ended up losing out on my entire youth. I went to a detention center at age 16, county jail at 17 and prison at age 21 after a loss of a final appeal.
I do know I was shown compassion and friendship like no other. The women I met in prison shaped me into the kind, compassionate woman I am today and introduced me to unity and community.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the correctional system, what would you change and why?
I would create more programs for mothers and children. So many of us leave behind our babies because of our mistakes, and it is unfair. We take innocent children and make hurt adults. I believe we need bonding classes and visits on a more intimate level for those eligible, and a violent offense solely should not stop an incarcerated mother from these types of programs.
But it is hard to choose just one thing to change, because I’d also want to change the lack of real opportunities for rehabilitation inside prison. Most people who are incarcerated have post-traumatic stress disorder from years of abuse or other life traumas and no tools to deal with it. Also, there should be incentive programs inside prisons, things to teach and promote a new way of thinking. I have often dreamed of a program like that.
Prison is run on fear — fear from the officers and from the offenders. It is hard to learn or feel safe and grow in that environment. I would like to change the fact that the state of Texas runs on fear. I do know firsthand that no good decisions come from fear.
Favorite prison recipe?
Chicken balls were hands-down my favorite.
2 bags of jalapeno-flavored potato chips
2 bags of cheese puffs
2 bags of canned chicken (do not drain)
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
a little of hot water
1 ramen noodles chicken seasoning packet
1 ramen noodles chili seasoning packet
2 packets of ranch dressing
1 utensil for mixing
1 brown paper bag from commissary
1 hair blow dryer
1 cardboard notebook cover
1 empty chip bag
To make a baking sheet: Wrap a cardboard notebook cover in a plastic chip bag for a “nonstick” tray.
To make chicken balls:
1. Crush up and mix chips and cheese puffs and divide equally into two bowls.
2. In one bowl of crushed chips, add canned chicken and chopped pepper.
3. Add a little hot water to chicken mix; you want the mix to be moist but not wet.
4. Add the chili and chicken seasoning packets to the chicken mix.
5. Take a small scoop of the chicken mix, roll it into a ball, place it in the second bowl and roll it around in the crushed chips until covered.
6. Place balls on the tray.
7. Put tray with chicken balls in a brown paper bag with a hole in the top. Place blow dryer in hole and turn it on. Watch the bag expand and hold the blow dryer as it bakes the chicken balls.
8. Flip bag once and cook for about 30 minutes or until balls are crisp and brown.
9. Dip the chicken balls in ranch dressing. Yummy!
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