Finding freedom in prison
January 18, 2021
I have always been a stubborn person, rigid in what I believe to be right and best for me and not prone to learn from the experiences of others. In 2015, my life was a perfect manifestation of those qualities. In doing what I believed was right, beliefs I had gleaned from the media and world around me, I found myself nineteen, with a group of hyper-talented and diverse friends, money to burn and a satisfying online fanbase in the blogging community. Thin, athletic, charismatic, I thrived in social gatherings. I had reared, trained and fell in love with a dog I named Vixie Dae who never left my side and performed tricks for guests in my home. My friends and I ate steak at dinner parties I hosted. We took trips on a whim at my expense. I was in love with a young man I thought to be my soulmate. I drove a stick shift. I railed on the Internet against misogyny and racism. I felt perfect. Life was like a dream.
But from every dream, we must wake, be it delight or nightmare, or a blend of both. Being arrested for murder is not a surreal experience. Standing in handcuffs, shackles around your ankles, at seven in the morning as a Justice of the Peace sets your bond at one million dollars is sobering. It is reality in its harshest, most unforgiving light. Incarceration is all solid walls and direct orders. It was not a surprise, but rather a direct result of the life I had decided to live and how it contradicted with my inmost desires. Being left with few choices, one learns to dispel expectations which I believe to be the root of disappointment. My longing for freedom waned and settled into acceptance that life is not what you make it. Often, others make your life for you. Contentment lies within the ability to decide how you are going to be. During the sixty-two months I spent in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, I learned not the key to happiness, but rather how to move fluidly around, through, and because of life and its hardships and its gifts. Freedom and prison are not places, but states of mind. It is the owner of the mind that decides how it is going to be.
I went to prison already a prisoner to disappointment and unfulfillment. As my decisions were taken from me, layer after layer of façade was taken from me. I was not the girl with the perfect love life, or a cute dog, or the popular blog. Those things no longer stood between me and everything else. I had to learn to choose how I would be. In the face of hardship, would I be one who was offended or harmed? Given mercy, would I be one who was prideful and entitled? I learned to do what served me, which at the time, was foraging for the silver lining in all things to survive. The threat in incarceration is not correctional officers or other offenders. It is not the food. It is not sickness or violence. It is depression, as it can slowly convince you that this mode of life is pointless, futile and without hope or benefit. I chose how to fight that threat, and it was with gratitude.
I have been out of prison for 134 days. My life is different from the old one, without drugs, my dog, my car or a surplus of money. Parole demands are difficult and sometimes, my pride rails against being constrained. No twenty-five-year-old wants to live with their mother after having been independent. Despite not having children of my own, I change my niece’s diapers every day. My life is sober and plain, a far-cry from both my prison and pre-incarceration activities. I have a multitude of things to complain about, a plethora of potential decorations at my own pity party.
But, in the morning, as I drink my coffee and watch the sunrise from my window, I am grateful, not because of where I was, or what I missed. I am grateful because I choose to be. I am grateful because I am free, not just of shackles and concrete walls, but of unfulfillment and powerlessness. Freedom comes from within yourself with the power to choose how you are going to be in the face of hardships or the delights of life, and also in every moment.
Prison taught me this: I must choose freedom with each breath I take.