I used to think that all the good people lived in Utah. I traveled as a photographer and always enjoyed meeting new people, but I was always glad to get back to Utah. Coming to prison has taught me that Utah hasn’t cornered the market on good people. I’ve met some amazing people and U think that the world is full of great people! Each day I meet staff members and inmates that lift the poor and downtrodden. Prison staff members have a special opportunity to set a positive tone in an otherwise difficult often negative environment. Recently I was talking to a staff member who said, “Louder, why are you even here?” I responded, “Because I made some mistakes.” He was quiet for a minute and said, “Don’t we all make mistakes?” I smiled and said, “I guess my number was up?” As I walked out of the door he said, “Go home already, we will make do here without you.” I’ve met some inmates in prison who are kind. Women who reach out and touch the life of another, despite their own pain and suffering. Most inmates come from terrible circumstances; homes where abuse and drug addiction prevail. Many of the women in prison had men take things from them when they were young; things that didn’t belong to them, things they had no right to take! These women have suffered deeply, and were sometimes hurt by those who were supposed to love them the most. One woman told me, “This is the first time in my life that I have felt safe!” I want to wrap my arms around these women and to tell them that there is something amazing in store for you. It might be painful today, but I promise that life can be great for you, please don’t give up! Their situation reminds me of a passage that I read in the book Les Miserable’s, by Victor Hugo. “You have left a place of suffering. But listen, there will be more joy in heaven over the repentant sinner, than over the white robes of a hundred good men. If you are leaving that sorrowful place with hate and anger against men, you are worthy of compassion; if you leave it with good will, gentleness, and peace, you are better than any of us.”
I went to a support group meeting recently where the topic of discussion was repentance. I shared with the group that I believe repentance is a beautiful thing! I said, “In the Bible dictionary, repentance is described as a change of mind; A fresh view about God, oneself, and the world. It is also described as the turning of ones heart and will to God.” I love the word repentance. I told them that it has been healing for me to spend time in nature. I have poured out my heart in prayer and confessed all my sins. When I hurt I go outside and talk to God. There, I unburden my heart, talk to the ones I love the most, and share my deepest pain and inadequacies. I talk to my children and tell them how sorry I am, how much I love them, and how hard I’m willing to work to make things right. I told them that I have to stay connected because I can’t do this alone. One of the women in the group said, “Aren’t you afraid people will think you’re crazy? If people see you talking to yourself they will think you’re nuts!” I responded that I’ve been crazy before and I assured them that I’m anything but crazy right now. I’m willing to be open and honest with my feelings and if people think I’m crazy so be it. I will do whatever it takes to be at peace. I explained that it’s the secrets that make us sick. We have to let go of these burdens and share our pain. It doesn’t matter weather it’s the pain we’ve caused others, or the pain others have inflicted on us, we have to let it go, freedom lies on the other side!
I got a letter from my son Jace this week and it made me happy. Talking to my room mate Sonia I said, “What a blessing it is to have such good kids.” She agreed and added that they’re good because they have a good mother. What a sweet friend! We had our mock job fair last week and and it went really well. A mock job fair in prison is an event where employers and professionals from the free world come in and do job interviews to help women prepare to leave prison. Some of the women were nervous as they prepared for their interviews and came into Career Resource asking for help. It was a sweet experience to be with them as they opened up. My co-workers and I shared tears with some of these sweet ladies as they tried to explain their convictions. After the interviews a woman that we helped found me on the compound and said, “I did it just like we practiced Ms. Portia, and I got the job! The lady who interviewed me said I did it perfect, thank you!” I thought that in a small way we get to help women find out who they really are, what an honor! I was deeply touched by a comment I got on my blog last week. A woman from Dublin got out of prison recently and wrote, “Happy birthday Portia. I was in one of your Explaining Your Conviction classes at Dublin. I’m out of prison now and doing great! I used the tools that I learned in your class and have a great job now. Thank you for all you do for us girls that take your class. I pray that you will be with your family soon. That was the best birthday present ever! I have such a love for my friends and sisters at Dublin. What a special bond we have, I just wanted to thank her for taking the time to read my blog and comment. I appreciate so much the love and support that has been provided to me, I love reading your comments and hearing from a sweet women I was in prison with was beyond cool! I’ve been sick this week so I didn’t think I would write a blog post but I want to stay connected and share the beauty I experience in Federal prison. Thank you all for following along:)