Free from the illusion of separateness.
Free to be free.
"Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better."
Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future. - David Mitchell
Recently, I had the honor of speaking at a program during North Carolina Reentry Week. As I looked out at the room of beautiful people — each filled with a lifetime of experiences, knowledge, hopes, dreams, wishes and regrets — it struck me that no one would have the slightest inkling of who in their midst had lived the experience of incarceration, and who had not. No one would be able to guess who among them knew themselves to be free, and who felt bound in mind, body, heart or spirit.
People often ask why I do this work. There are many reasons, among which is that for much of my life, I have been on a conscious journey to break free from the self-imposed prison of fear, shame and self-hatred that — as is true for so many — was borne early through the callous actions of others. I often wonder what my life might have looked like had I grown up in a different educational or economic environment? Had I turned to drugs, alcohol or men instead of food and work to numb the pain I felt? Had I turned my rage more outward than inward?
Freedom is no respecter of identity. As the courageous women featured throughout the Free Woman series have made poignantly clear, it can be claimed or reclaimed within the walls of prison just as it can be lost outside of them. I do this work because my liberation is bound up in the liberation of others, and I can more easily taste the sweet fruits of freedom when I am in community with those who value it above all else.
I am forever indebted to the women featured throughout this series and all those whose stories are yet unheard. Those of us who are succeeding beyond our wildest dreams, and those of us who fail and fall and fail and fall and rise up to try again. May we continue to reach in, through and beyond the prison walls we erect to maintain the illusion that we are separate. May all beings be free.
Jennifer C. Jackson is about to celebrate her 4th year as Executive Director of Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women. She hails from Atlanta, GA and lives in Raleigh with her cat, Miss Marple.