In my past, others perceived me as a smart and talented woman with a drive to take on any challenge that came my way. Technically, these are labels but people consider them as positive qualities and descriptions of character. These perceptions naturally gave me the motivation to live up to those standards. Remove the labels? What labels? I had nothing to worry about.
I spoke too soon…
In need of change, I decided to relocate and obtain another degree to become a professor at a historically black college or university (HCBU) and make a positive impact on other people’s lives. The Arizona mountains became my new horizon for opportunities. But shortly after my arrival, I was involved in an accident, which directed me straight to prison. Those once encouraging perceptions were quickly replaced with degrading labels. I was now a danger to society. I was a liar. I was a manipulator. I was a threat to others. What just happened?
Dressed in orange, my clothes said it all – my words no longer mattered.
I didn’t want to fit in with the stigmas and labels of this place. After countless failed attempts to change how people thought of me as an inmate, I felt like it was a lost cause. Eventually, I started my journey with Televerde. Working for a second-chance company helped alleviate the embarrassment or shame that was triggered by society’s labels. I was in an environment that allowed me to grow, to lead, and to be successful. I learned that my life could still make an impact on others.
I looked around and I soon noticed that my coworkers were unfazed by the labels. Televerde made it clear that labels meant absolutely nothing. The company’s focus was on skillset, work ethic, and making a difference. With Televerde’s guidance and support, myself and others have been given an extraordinary chance to perfect our craft and we’ve been exposed to multiple growth opportunities. I could actually use the education and skills I acquired from college again. My experience and goals in teaching suddenly became relevant. And all the Televerde and client training I’ve received has opened doors in the sales and marketing world that will be valuable even after my release.
Every day, in our citrus-colored jumpsuits, we rip off the labels and prove that we are capable of anything. We are recognized for what we’ve accomplished today and not held to a mistake we made in the past. We are determined to expose our greatness to the world for all people to witness the beauty that is covered by these orange veils. When we exit the prison gate, we will continue to knock down every barrier and reach our goals.
The moment you place a negative label on someone, chances are, you’re wrong. Don’t strip away someone’s greatness. Instead, remove the labels.
This talk was given at a TEDx event, TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional, using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more here.