Red, White & Orange: Reflecting on Freedom from Inside Prison Walls

When I think of the 4th of July, I can’t help but think of freedom. Surprisingly though, because I’m living life behind bars, one could argue that I’m lacking just that. Currently, I’m an inmate at the Perryville Arizona State Prison Complex. I’m also a Marketing Content Specialist with Televerde.

For those who may be unfamiliar, Televerde is built on a socially responsible business model in which around 50% of employees are incarcerated women.

Incarceration. Inmate. Prisoner. These aren’t words that conjure up thoughts of freedom. Isn’t freedom the antithesis of being behind bars?

Six years ago, I would have asked the same question. I take that back – six years ago, I wouldn’t have contemplated the meaning of freedom at all. It was something I always had and like many free citizens, I took it for granted. I was physically free, which seemed like enough. Then I became wrapped up in situations that locked me inside imaginary barriers.

Now, the roles are reversed. My physical freedom is waiting for me outside the prison gate but mentally and emotionally, I’m freer than ever.

Not surprisingly, freedom is a common topic of discussion amongst my co-workers and friends on “the yard.” Regardless of our backgrounds, we can all relate to a sense of feeling imprisoned in some way throughout our lives. As citizens of the United States, we can also agree on the basics of freedom: freedom of speech, religion, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; you know, all that stuff we learned from history class.

I’ve come to find that there is no right or wrong definition of freedom, rather there is a lot of gray area. The gray area is full of the ubiquitous freedoms that we tend to overlook, although they became blindingly apparent to me once I was suddenly limited from many of them. It’s unfortunate that incarceration is what I had to experience to finally recognize even the little things.

If it weren’t for my incarceration though, I may never have fully appreciated the fond memory of a delicious caramel Frappuccino, topped with fluffy whipped cream and drizzled with extra caramel syrup. Such a trivial notion yet the real thing can bring even the smallest feeling of freedom.

I wear an orange jumpsuit. But whether my co-workers wear orange or work on the outside, the consensus is that true freedom starts from within. It’s a mindset. If we don’t feel free, it doesn’t matter where we are physically. It can still seem like a prison. For those of us who have realized this because of the loss of our physical freedom, it hits a little closer to home.

To provide a little glimpse into the perspective of my fellow ladies in orange, I asked them, “What does freedom mean to you?” Their responses are striking in their simplicity:

  • Starting the coffee pot in the morning and feeling the breeze blow through my kitchen window.
  • Eating an ice cream cone at 3 a.m.
  • Hope.
  • Not giving anyone the ability to control your thoughts or feelings.
  • Being able to think how I wish and learn what I want.
  • Choosing what to care about.
  • Feeling, thinking and responding how and when I choose.
  • Bunny slippers and a midnight snack.
  • The fuzzy, torn up robe that I refuse to get rid of.
  • Equality.
  • Walking my dog.
  • Sunsets without barbed wire.

In the end, it’s quite straightforward. Whether behind barbed wire or a white picket fence, the rudimentary things make us all feel free.

Thankfully, my job with Televerde gives me a sense of freedom. These solid cement walls and steel bars may limit a part of me but I have internally fought for a sense of self-worth that is stronger than even the most indestructible foundation. Although I cannot change the past, I will continue to earn my stripes on this freedom crusade.

This 4th of July, take the time to define your version of freedom. Are you holding yourself back and if so, what is within your control that you can change and will allow you to live more freely? As you celebrate with family and fireworks, I hope the color orange crosses your mind.

From our corporate family at the Phoenix headquarters, we wish you a safe and Happy Fourth of July!

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