At the age of 25, I walked into the Arizona State Prison. I was no longer Erica Munoz. Stripped of my true identity, my new title was “inmate number 285027”. I was not me anymore.
At the start of my prison sentence, I couldn’t see past the next seven years of incarceration.
I had zero interest to make the best out of this nightmare. I just wanted to give up. It was as if I had sunk to the bottom of the ocean and didn’t care if I ever came to the surface again. How did I become this way?
Growing up, I constantly experienced pain, disappointment, and failure in my life. I’ve survived countless tragic events and have mastered the art of simply dealing with problems. It was normal to mask my pain and pretend I was okay. But once I stepped into prison, it all changed. I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to put the mask back on.
I remained afloat for the first four years at Perryville. But then, I experienced another series of painful events, which led to depression and loneliness. The thoughts of giving up came back.
I felt the waves of emotion crashing and flooding my mind. This time was different somehow. I struggled at first and then gradually remembered how to swim. I found the strength that was once drowning deep down inside and decided to face the emotions head-on. I took each feeling and worked through them one at a time.
Today, I am 30-years-old with two years remaining before my release. I no longer have the same outlook on life that I had five years ago.
I forced myself to restart from scratch. I overcame the challenges of my life that were filled with pain, PTSD, fear, and shame. Faith and countless hours of praying kept me above water instead of allowing myself to give up and drown again. I’ve learned how to love the person I am, which also means I’ve learned to accept the person I was.
It’s interesting how living in such a restricted and confined environment helped me to discover who I really am.
Part of that journey included Televerde. Working in this unique environment took my confidence to a whole new level.
I’ve been given support and valuable tools and resources. The knowledge and skill set I’ve gained is beyond what I could’ve ever imagined. I know that even without a college education, I am fearless and certain of my intelligence and success.
I hold my own in conversations with VPs and C-level executives and I am highly respected for my expertise and work ethic. I am now a woman of strength, dignity, and continuous change.
My involvement with TEDx has set the stage for women in Perryville to be heard, and also seen for our beauty, talents, and courage, both above and below the surface.
Our stories inspire and are examples of what it’s like to stand in the eye of a hurricane. But after all is said and done, we know that our past is not who we are anymore. It’s #NotMeAnymore.
This talk was given at a TEDx event, TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional, using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more here.