young prisoners speak

By inmate_82

By inmate_82

I found myself conversing with nine young women prisoners this week–all under age 22.  My aim was to inquire about their own sense of their needs related to education, work and job when they get out.

Where are you from? I asked glancing around the circle.

Rutland, St. Johnsbury, Newport, Middlebury, Bennington, Barre, Manchester, N.H., they responded.

What kinds of jobs are you interested in? I continued.

Firefighter, cook, auto-mechanic, solider, therapist, business manager, childcare worker, owner of a tattoo and piercing studio, an advocate for women’s rights …

What a creative group of women with high aspirations, I thought to myself.

How many of you feel that an unhealthy network of family and friends was instrumental in your landing here? I asked.

All nine hands shot up in the air.

Really? I pushed back.  EVERY ONE of your friends and family?

Yup, they chimed in, and we have to go back to the same town we came from, living around the same negative people.

One chestnut-haired 22-year-old continued:

… a place where everybody knows my name, my crime, that I’m an addict with mental health problems, living in the only halfway house in town–where everybody thinks I’m nothin.

(To be continued…)

6 thoughts on “young prisoners speak

  1. Janice says:

    love the language here “unhealthy network of family and friends ” We can’t choose our family and it is often because of our family – parents etc.. that we end up a certain way or our paths get scarred early on. Finding and creating a new or more supportive network of friends – a family of choice – is hard and takes work. If people take from you – more than they give to you and your life (and not meaning physical things) we should evaluate that relationship, but it’s hard to walk away from them…especially family! I could go on and on about this…I feel their pain!!

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    • Marybeth says:

      Well-stated, Janice. Despite these young women’s desires to ‘break the cycles’ of their dysfunctional families, it is truly terrifying to walk away, and this process frequently plays out in fits and starts, if at all. Thanks for reading and tune into the next installment! My best, Marybeth

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  2. AlvaradoFrazier (@AlvaradoFrazier) says:

    It’s interesting that most frequently, the responses to types of job are in the helping professions. This is no different than many of the young woman I worked with in California. There is a desire to help others, but sometimes that desire isn’t turned back on themselves.

    Your questions are also a very good jumping off point to discuss how getting themselves healthy (emotionally) has to be a priority because 99% of those in correctional facilities return to their home, as it’s often a requirement for parole unless they have a support system somewhere else.

    If they continue to feel/believe that an unhealthy network of family/friends brought them to a facility, they can acknowledge that, but must remember that was then, and this is now. Wherever an individual goes, they take themselves there.

    Part of getting ready to go back to a community is to become as well prepared as possible to do so, which minimizes their risk of returning to a correctional facility.

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    • Marybeth says:

      Interestingly, several of the women in this conversation later acknowledge that they will take their “demons” with them wherever they go, not assuming that a fresh place to live will mean instant and long-lasting success. That kind of awareness and realism is encouraging to me. This conversation will touch on some of the themes you have raised here (in the next installment)–many thanks for sharing! -Marybeth

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  3. Dor says:

    I am speaking from the other side – the family and friends of an addict. Usually the reason the young person is in jail is because the family and friends have exhausted all their resources and attempts at getting the addict to recovery. Sometimes they are in jail because they have to pay a debt to society, and sometimes this is the best place for them to realize they have hit their bottom. Addicts have very little coping skills and most blame everyone else for their problems. Some have come from dysfunctional families, but many do not. Mental health issues that have not been resolved are often a cause for them to self medicate. When they are willing to do the hard work, there is hope. And if family and friends are there to support them in recovery, then their chances are greater. A belief in a higher power, and a “paying it forward” mentality is key.

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    • Marybeth says:

      In Vermont, the vast majority of incarcerated women hail from multi-generational poverty and family disintegration. They are 2nd or 3rd generation Vermonters to end up in jail. This was the case re: the group of young women I was talking to this week. For these ones, the DOC system is ‘set up’ to return them to the communities from whence they came. In my view, that needs to change if they are ever to break this revolving-door cycle. We were talking about new options/approaches and soliciting their ideas towards that end. No doubt, it is very difficult to do the “hard work” when there is not a supportive network of support in place in the homefires. No doubt, as you say, prison can be that place to “hit rock bottom” and come to terms with self. Thanks for sharing your perspective! -Marybeth

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