One year ago, I was completing a 5-year sentence at the Arizona Department of Corrections Perryville Complex. If someone had told me then that just 12 months later, I would advocate for sentencing reform on the steps of the Arizona State Capitol, I wouldn’t have believed them. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
On Tuesday, I stood beside other formerly incarcerated people and their families and pleaded for systemic change to Arizona’s criminal justice system during the first-ever ReFraming Justice Day, which was organized by the American Friends Service Committee-Arizona. My Chief Social Responsibility Officer Michelle Cirocco recently authored a terrific blog, Reframing Justice Takes On Sentencing Reform, which details the event and what the legislative House Bill No. 2270 (#JustSentencingAZ) aims to change.
As I stood on the front lawn of the AZ State Capitol, I’ll admit feeling both humbled and intimidated. But when I arrived at our designated meeting place with others who were just like me all working towards a common goal, any nervousness I was feeling transformed into nerves of steel and I felt empowered!
Together, we spoke with AZ Senators and Representatives, all sharing our stories of incarceration, rehabilitation and transformation. They listened attentively and even asked thoughtful questions to gain deeper insights into our individual experiences. It was an incredibly uplifting feeling to know that these people who are all in positions of power sat not in judgment but in support of us.
In one of the many moving moments of the day, I sat in the balcony as January 22 was proclaimed Reframing Justice Day. In that instant, I became overwhelmed at how different my life is today and by the number of people who have helped me get to this point.
From day one of my incarceration, I prepared to come home. For most currently incarcerated, going home is inevitable regardless of how they choose to spend their time. But my last conviction was not my first time in prison. What was different was I had made the decision it would be my last. After 28 years of heroin addiction that some would say is impossible to change, I fought hard and succeeded. To paraphrase actress Audrey Hepburn, the word itself says “I’m Possible.” Without incentives or programs currently in place in Arizona to address the behaviors that led to incarceration, the motivation to change must be self-generated. Believe me, the majority of incarcerated people understand the need to change; however, when there’s a long prison sentence in front of you, hopelessness sometimes creeps in.
And so began my possibilities. I gained employment at Televerde. I read every self-help book in the library. I attended inmate-led groups and exercised to breathe in the new and let go of the old. I became my biggest advocate for change! Those five years taught me I can do things I never dreamed possible–like train Televerde employees around the world to excel in their roles. Most importantly, hope taught me that I can be more than my mistakes and my past. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had and I commit myself to extend those same opportunities to those who are incarcerated today and who may have the misfortune of being incarcerated tomorrow.