The Spark of Resistance Ignited
Prior to my incarceration, I never thought of becoming an advocate. I was subsumed by old emotions that prohibited me from taking action. My inability to assert myself stemmed from a fear of what the repercussion might be from those in power. This fear kept me in my place, making myself as small and unnoticeable as possible. This was my experience until my last bid (prison term). I carried remnants of being small and in my place with me throughout my relationships - with my family who had assisted me with my children and with the various systems with which I had to interface. While in prison even though I knew and had been told that what I was experiencing was wrong, I knew I wasn’t the only one experiencing this, and so, I relied on other women who I viewed as stronger than me to act.
The spark of resistance is ignited when we see ourselves as other than objects, reclaiming our agency. It was my last bid that set everything in motion. I was going to be sentenced for a petty crime and for a parole violation for a crime I had committed almost a year and half ago. The spark was ignited by two critical experiences while I served my last bid - fighting to keep my son with me while I served my prison term, and supporting other sisters to reach their fullest potential while behind bars.
I was four and half months pregnant with my last child. I needed to get accepted into the nursery to keep him with me in prison. I didn’t want to turn him over to the state or to a family member while I was in prison. I knew from my past experience of losing my other son to foster care that if I turned this child over, I would not be as inspired to tackle the foster care system to get him back. I would not know how to go about it; I would not have enough self-esteem or feel worthy of being his mother. During this last bid, the desire to fight to keep my child was ignited. The spark of resistance was vibrant in my being. I was fully connected to the fact that if I were able to be a mother, I would receive a reprieve, and this act would return some semblance of humanity to my life. Motherhood was the spark of resistance through which I would gain self-respect again. Having the opportunity to raise my child and having my child with me while I was incarcerated would propel me to be there for myself and my other children. Having experienced being shackled during my pregnancy was another impetus that sparked me. The dehumanization of being shackled during such a vulnerable time in my life enraged me. If the prison authorities could treat me and my unborn child in such a dehumanizing way, what else would I have to endure during and after my incarceration?
Reclaiming my agency was also fostered by supporting sisters who were behind bars with me. I was reminded of my great grandmother saying, “A closed mouth won’t get fed”, and so I opened my ears and mouth. Finally, I was open to listen, willing to seek out and follow advice, and ask questions instead of answering them myself. I began to develop relationships with women serving time with me (including other mothers), the staff and volunteers. During my stay, I took a job as an Adult Basic Education tutor. I began to help sisters who were seeking their GED, to support them and guide them with their assignments. I was useful to someone else for a change; it seemed natural and the focus was on their success. Thus, during my last bid, the frequency with which I needed prompting to speak, to advise, to support and to resist drastically lessened. Resistance to action was always within me but became evident when I was in prison – when I really listened to sisters strategize and plan for their work placements, their living quarters, graduations, children’s visits, and the development of programs – where I became inspired by the vibrant agency sisters demonstrated.
The right time and the right place, coupled with the realization that I had had enough, I was propelled to being heard and activated into the work I am most passionate about – working with women. Women who are striving to succeed and become whole. We live in a society that discounts women’s ability. Yes, we have our individual and collective successes, and we know that our quest is never over, even when we win. We have to have the ability to seek justice further than a change of law or policy. Our responsibility is to make sure that the changes for which we ask are followed through. We are diligent to grab for the low hanging fruit and keep reaching higher by telling our stories, writing about our stories, conducting research on our own, learning how to re-write policy, asking the hard questions, and understanding the impact of racism. To all the GEMS, keep resisting.