Food for thought: An essay on reentry from a convicted felon.
My name is Silvia, I am a mother, a student, a convicted felon and now I am your neighbor. Two years ago I made a mistake and was sentenced to prison for 19 months. When I made the very bad choice to embezzle money from my employer, the most I thought I would lose was my job. In no way did I understand the consequences of my actions and in no way did I realize the loss I suffered was not only mine, but my family’s, friend’s and the community’s as well.
Navigating through life can be a daunting process as I found as the divorced mother of two daughters. The turmoil of everyday life can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. But the path is made even more difficult when you are transitioning from prison back into the community. Because the difficulties were caused by my own doing only made it more formidable. I never thought I would commit a serious crime let alone spend time in prison. The punishment didn’t end the day I was released. The problems I faced after I got out wee one’s I hadn’t anticipated. The stigma attached to a felony conviction is hard to overcome. At first I felt everyone could see I was a criminal. Simple things like renewing a driver’s license or re-opening a checking account became a series of lengthy and embarrassing explanations. Although I have a college degree and years of work experience behind me, the minute I check the felony box on a job application means I will probably be turned down.
Crimes need to be punished and the threat of prison is an appropriate deterrent to committing crimes in the first place. I deserved to serve time in prison. I committed a horrible offense and in no way do I feel my sentence was unfair. But if I have the desire to make a better life for myself and my family, I would like the chance to work toward being a good citizen and a good neighbor. How can we rebuild our lives without having someone to believe in us? It is hard enough to believe in ourselves. We need help reconnecting with a community that may see as threats. We need help to rebuild the self esteem that was lost and move on from the paralyzing shame and guilt we feel.
I was fortunate to have my family care for my children while I was incarcerated. I was lucky to have a home to go to after I was paroled. But even with the best opportunities afforded me I still struggle to support myself. I can only imagine how problematic it would be to reenter society with an addiction or a mental health issue. I hope I speak for others when I say maybe we don’t deserve a second chance but I know having time to reflect on myself in prison made me a better person. I want to endeavor to give back some of what I’ve learned from my experience in order to help people with the same obstacles become better neighbors.