Incarcerated 2 years, 1 day
Free since December 2016
Describe your life today.
My life looks just like yours. I work, exercise and go to church. I binge on Netflix and dream about where I will take my first vacation. (My supervised release keeps me from traveling, but that is the consequence I accept.) I go to the lake often, where I paddleboard or take out a hand-me-down boat that needs a makeover.
I have a full-time job. In fact, it’s the same one I had before my incarceration. Most people don’t know about my crime; I have been asked to keep it quiet. That doesn’t really bother me, because this is my story to tell — to those people whom I trust and not to those who will only judge. The “family” I have through Truth Be Told gives me an avenue to tell my story. If you met me or saw me around town, I don’t think you would think I was once an inmate at a federal prison. I don’t fit any stereotype or demographic that would foreshadow my incarceration.
I made a series of mistakes that led to my crime. Ultimately, my pride led me to prison, and that is why I want to tell my story. Pride is something most people are guilty of. I’ve never used illegal drugs. I have a college degree. I was listed in “Who’s Who of Colleges and Universities.” I was in a sorority. I probably look a lot like the women whom I hope will donate to this campaign.
What are you most proud of since you’ve been free?
Today I live in the moment. (OK, that’s not always true, but I do so now more than before.) I don’t look five or 10 years ahead anymore. I used to look so far ahead, I missed out on today. I judged myself against my future me, and my present me never measured up. One day, I was paddleboarding, and the view behind me was just like the one ahead. That realization made me stop what I was doing and sit and think: I spent years racing toward exactly what I had.
Those silent moments in the truck with my kids? I just embrace them now, because my kids are there with me. They chose to ride with me to the donut shop or get an ice cream, and the silence is comfortable because we are enjoying each other’s company.
I love the journey and the disasters along the way that make the very best memories. Today, I try to enjoy the memories and mental snapshots more than tangible objects.
How does your past incarceration still affect your life today — negatively and/or positively?
I am asked this question quite a bit. One word describes both: awareness. I am more aware of how my actions and emotions affect everyone. In prison, simple things like not wiping down a counter or sink after washing your hands were a huge insult to those around you. I feel like I learned to be a better person and how much the little things really matter.
I learned compassion in a deeper sense. Before prison, I thought I was open-minded and willing to listen to someone’s point of view, and I tried to appreciate everyone’s differences. In prison, I met women from all walks of life and learned how easy it is to make a snap judgment about something I thought I understood. Listening to news or opinions on public policy is different for me now, because I have met the women who would benefit or be hurt by a politician who knows nothing about the day-to-day of the people they are elected to serve.
What Truth Be Told program did you experience while incarcerated, and what did you gain from that experience?
I took the Talk to Me Speaking class, and then I returned the following semester to serve as a classroom mentor. This class, which focuses on learning to tell the story of what you believe led you to prison, dovetailed perfectly with the one-on-one counseling I was receiving from the prison psychologist. The counseling was helpful, but the lessons I learned in Truth Be Told made it impactful.
In Talk to Me Speaking, I was able to dig really deep and heal wounds. When I delivered my first speech in front of my classmates, I thought I knew exactly what had led me down the dark path to my incarceration. However, from the Toastmaster’s evaluation and the input I received from the facilitator and the other women in the class, I realized I was ignoring a huge part of my story.
Every woman in the class had a different story and experience, but, at the root of it, we were all similar. From the first class, I didn’t feel alone. I had struggles, and she did too. All of us struggle with life; we all handle it differently.
What I gained in Talk to Me was worth thousands in therapy. I wish every incarcerated woman had the chance to try this program. In fact, I think every adult in any kind of therapy or self-growth would benefit from this process.
How does Truth Be Told continue to influence your life?
Gosh, from Truth Be Told’s 4Cs (Community, Communication, Creativity and Caring for self) to thinking of my life as a timeline and outlining events and resulting choices that led me to prison, all of this influences how I show up for my life today. I let myself journal nonsense, and I don’t judge the quality of my writing. I take 60 seconds to write what is on my mind and then toss it away. Bye-bye, toxic thoughts. Bye-bye, gossip. These are ways I practice self-care. Truth Be Told gave me some tools to put in my toolbox to get through life.
It sounds really selfish as I write this, but prior to my experience in Truth Be Told, I used to not freely give encouragement. I was insanely critical of myself, and I held those around me to the same standards. Truth Be Told showed me what it was like to give and receive encouragement.
Why is Truth Be Told important and worth supporting?
Truth Be Told is a program that gives women a voice. Whether it is through writing, speech or movement, the Talk to Me classes allow us to take what is buried deep inside and get it out into the open and heal. Putting people in prison for an amount of time doesn’t fix anything. Truth Be Told gets to the root of the cause and helps women heal. Without healing or learning tools to heal, how is anyone expected to correct their mistakes?
Support a program that puts a blank journal into a woman’s hands. It sounds simple to anyone in the free world, but paper is gold in prison and a journal is worth everything.
Worth more than that is the community she gains in that classroom with the other ladies and the facilitators. True rehabilitation isn’t free, but it is vital to keeping women out of prison. Sadly, most prisons can’t or won’t fund rehabilitation programs. Changing a woman’s life in a Truth Be Told classroom breaks the crime cycle and helps empower her to positively change those she meets for the rest of her life.
Describe the women you met in prison.
I met drug kingpins who looked just like women you would see in the checkout lane at the grocery store. I met white-collar criminals who stole to support a gambling habit or to pay for their kids’ college. My favorite lesson learned was the lady who walked in with a half-shaved head. She had a serious face, and I was intimated by her. Think of what you see in the movies, and that is the stereotype. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. She had a huge heart, a beautiful smile and the best laugh.
I’m ashamed of how I judged those ladies, and I hated how they judged me. But that judgment didn’t last long. Very quickly, you get to know each other at the most basic level, and that is the common denominator. At the end of the day, you are sharing a prison meal with someone you would never, ever meet in your “real” life, but I am a better person for knowing those women.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the correctional system, what would you change and why?
I would wave my wand and make people care more and judge less — and that goes for people on both sides of the prison fence. For every woman I met who wanted to come home a better person, I met another who just wanted to sleep or play cards to pass her time. Investing a couple of hours a week in a class like Truth Be Told is a life-changer. According to a 15-year study, 86.2 percent of Truth Be Told graduates remain free three years after release. That is a big number.
I also believe that incarcerated people would benefit from more interaction with people from the “free world.” Most women are stuck in a rut because they don’t know better or see better. It really is true: You are the sum of the five people you surround yourself with. If people inside the correctional system could meet people outside their normal five, they would see a whole different way of living. I believe that is the key to digging out of our circumstances. Knowing there is a different way to do things is freedom.
Favorite prison recipe?
A week before Valentine’s Day, a neighbor made prison cheesecake. I’m not a cake person; I am an icing person, but I liked this cheesecake. It made prison seem less like prison on Valentine’s Day. Food was what brought us together. We ate to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, GED certificates, release dates and holidays. I can tell you about my prison tiramisu another time; I hope that recipe lived on after I left.
Ingredients for cake:
4 vanilla pudding cups
lemon juice from those little lemon-shaped containers
Ingredients for crust:
graham crackers, crushed
margarine or olive oil
1 plastic bag
To make the cake:
1. Using a fork, mix pudding and lemon juice together.
2. Slowly add powdered creamer.
To make the crust:
1. Melt margarine (or use oil) and mix in the crushed graham crackers.
2. Press into a bowl to make a crust.
3. Pour cake mix over the crust and set bowl over a bag of ice until firm.
Nikki’s Next-Level Cheesecake:
Stir in a packet of strawberry jelly with the cake mix. Serve on vanilla wafers. Top with a melted chocolate bar.
Honor Nikki by helping Truth Be Told raise $30,000 in 10 Days between September 16-25. All gifts made during this 10-day campaign will DOUBLE in size, thanks to a matching pledge of up to $30,000! Your gift will ensure that Truth Be Told continues to provide safe community and healing programs to nearly 1,000 justice-involved women every year! Click on $30,000 in 10 Days to make your gift today!
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