Will they judge me? Will they think less of me? What if mess up? Just breathe and rise above it. I’m worthy of the second chance I’ve been given.
I can’t quite remember all the thoughts that ran through my head as I stood on stage to share my story, but they were something along those lines. I was invited to speak at this year’s Conscious Capitalism’s Sum & Substance event. My goal was to challenge others to look passed the labels of incarceration and see people for their skills, experience, and dedication to be better today. Confident of who I am and what I’ve overcome, I described the most vulnerable part of my life years ago when I was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Like my fellow panelists, who are also my colleagues and dear friends, we are constantly haunted by the fear of judgement from others. But as I spoke, my nerves began to disappear. My passion for owning the struggle and rising above the challenges began to reverberate through my words. This was my story and that’s OK. And I may regret some of the choices I made in my past, but I am proud of how far I’ve come and the direction I’m heading. I’m making the most of my second chance.
My daughters were in the audience and I couldn’t have been more honored to see their proud faces looking up at me. During the weeks leading up to the event, I rehearsed my speech with them, which was also their first time actually hearing what I endured years ago. Together, we relived the tragic moments, we cried, but most importantly, we accepted the moments of failure that pushed us to rise above the dark times.
If we look beyond my story, beyond Televerde and this event, the purpose is bigger than all of us. As people who have experienced so many different paths in life, the responsibility is on us collectively to show compassion and not overlook others because of their worst mistake or the person they used to be.
We have children and family who are greatly affected by these circumstances and may struggle for the rest of their lives if their parent is not given the opportunity to prove themselves based on who they are today. We have high recidivism rates, unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction, and the list goes on. Many of these issues are a cause and effect of incarceration but we can help to create the change for people to be given the right support and a second chance.
Of all the choices I made in my past, applying to Televerde while in prison is the best one. I’ll forever be grateful that this company saw my potential and value I could bring and was willing to invest in and give me a second chance. But there aren’t enough companies like Televerde that provide incarcerated people with marketable skills while serving time, or a job offer after release, along with personal and professional resources at their fingertips. This needs to change. If we are truly trying to tackle society’s issues, then we need to give people second chance to rise up.
So, as I stood on that stage, I knew I wasn’t being judged because of my past. I knew I was encouraging the change that will help people rise above the difficult times—for other incarcerated people to build confidence, for businesses to ban the box and give women and men like me a second chance, and for our families and communities to thrive. Together, we can and we will rise above our past.