Life In Prison

In the Trenches

I quit my photography job last week and struggled with the decision.  It’s one of my goals to live a balanced and orderly life, and I needed to change things to make that happen.  Each weekend women race to rec, and wait for hours to have their pictures taken.  The energy in the small place is intense, and last week a few of the women were flat out disrespectful, and rude; it made me feel bad!  After praying about it I decided that as much as I love to help women feel beautiful in prison; my bigger goal is to help women see their inner beauty. We are making an impact in the classes we teach, and that is my priority! When I told the women in our support group about my decision, they agreed that it was time for me to lay the camera down:) One of my friends reminded me that sometimes you have to let go of something good, so something better can come along. And another woman in our group joked that they would have to hire two photographers to replace me, one for each shoe:) They did end up hiring two photographers, and both of them were thrilled to have the opportunity to take pictures.  I was nervous that my last day was going to be a madhouse! When the women on the compound found out it was my last shooting session they all rushed down and I was grateful that several of my friends came to support me. My sweet friend Maisie took me into a corner before starting and said a simple prayer.  She said, “Father, please protect Portia today, and if her day gets too hard I pray she will look up and see my face, and know that I love her.” These women are my sisters! We are in the trenches together, and what we are doing is important! We work in different places; we live in different units; but are united in a common purpose to forgive ourselves, love others, and support each other. We are strong!

Sometimes being away from my family is heart breaking; sometimes the time away seems overwhelming! I was having one of those days recently, and went to a 12 step meeting for comfort. On my way I stopped by the control station to ask the officer if he would announce the meeting, and he joked with me that I needed to work the thirteenth step but I wasn’t really in the joking mood, and told him that I was still disappointed that he didn’t refer to us over the intercom as ladies, or mothers, on Mothers Day, instead of his usual, “Listen up inmates!” He told me, “Why would I do that? Everyone here is a bad mother anyway!” I was deeply hurt and offended by his off handed comment.  He seemed to realize how insensitive the comment was and in an effort to make amends he added, “I just feel sorry for the kids, that’s all.” I said,  “I feel sorry for you.” and reminded, “If you haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes you aren’t entitled to judge them.” Many of the women in prison have suffered in ways that are hard to comprehend! I could have engaged in a righteous disagreement with the fellow, but I didn’t. I would hope that I have learned the important fights go on inside my own heart; that’s where the real battles are won! I love the women in prison, and personally know the guilt and shame associated with this experience can be overwhelming. It’s a pain of a different order; a pain that is impossible to describe! We who keep going despite unbeatable odds are warriors! I believe in the good I see in others, and want women to believe in themselves. I want women to know the rewards of living a principle centered life, and have hope for a bright future. I want them to leave prison the amazing people that I know they are, and want the pain of generations of abuse to stop! I want the ignorant attitudes of those who haven’t walked in these worn out shoes to change. I want to make a difference!

As I was thinking about the time away from my children, and the time I will continue to spend away from them, I realized that I will probably serve my entire sentence. I have served over 2 years now, and still have at least 2 years remaining. ( my sentence will be shorter because of a treatment program I will be participating in) My appeal will probably take the entire sentence to be resolved, but I will still move forward with it, because I know what happened in the courtroom the day I plead guilty was wrong. Yesterday was a hard day for me. Sometimes something little can make a big difference in prison and I read an article in a church publication that gave me comfort. It was a story of a couple serving a mission away from home, and while they were away their son was given the high honor, and opportunity, to play a musical number at Carnegie Hall. When this sweet mother got the news that her son would be performing, she knew that she wouldn’t be able to attend, and said a prayer that went something like this: “Father in heaven, I am grateful that our son has been blessed in this way, but I feel just a little bit sad that I won’t be able to be there with him. Please comfort me. ” After her prayer the woman said that she felt the distinct impression that it was because of her service that her son was given such an honor; that her service had provided opportunities for her children that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. When I read those words tears began to flow, and in my heart I knew that my children will also be given growth opportunities. That blessings will come because I am choosing to face this struggle with dignity. As I love God’s children here, our friends, neighbors, school teachers, and church members, have loved my children in my absence, and I know my children are in the palm of God’s hand! I am deeply humbled and grateful for the love we have been shown. Your prayers are felt, and the comfort I desperately needed yesterday came! Thank you for following along:)

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