Free from wanting the approval of others.
Free to love myself.
"Freedom is just taking every day as a gift and making the most of it."
Have you ever been so desperate for love…to have somebody love you…that you would be willing to do the unspeakable, to take something from somebody that only God has a right to take?
I am 41 years old and for 38 years of my life, I didn’t love myself. My parents divorced and remarried when I was very young and started new families. I found it very hard to fit in and I started trying to get attention in negative ways. Wanting so desperately to have that acceptance led me to men, being very promiscuous, and giving away so freely something that should have been a gift, just to have that false sense of that acceptance and love.
I’m not saying that was the reason for my actions later in life because I was older, and I knew what I was doing. In my mind and heart, I thought the only option for a man to love me and to see me was to do something drastic. I made a choice of hurting somebody, and that desperation led me to prison. Not to sound like a cliche, but prison is where God cleaned me up and turned me around.
Freedom to me is not being bound to somebody else’s acceptance and approval of me. It is being able to love myself. I first remember feeling free when I was in the JobStart program. I remember Dr. Noell talking about all the garbage we carry along inside of us, and sooner or later we had to let it go because it was poisoning us. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that I was holding on to all those past hurts, things that had happened to me and that I had done. Once I knew where I was supposed to go for love, I was able to let go and love myself. That was the biggest relief and biggest freedom I’d ever felt in my life.
In JobStart Fridays, I was asked to write a letter to my victim. When Amy (Otto) asked us to do that assignment, I was skeptical, but she said that it was important, because if you never have the chance to see that person, you’re at least taking it out of you and laying it down as a record. Being able to write “I’m sorry” and feel that it was actually being said to her was freeing, and it did bring some kind of closure. I still have a tremendous amount of remorse for what I’ve done, though, and pray that one day, I have an opportunity to apologize to the woman I hurt and let her know that she in no way was responsible for anything that happened. I think this is an important part of my healing process…to make amends as much as I am able.
Freedom was in my very first way of voicing my love to God – through dance. I was finally able to use my body in a way to bring Glory to God, for what He designed it to be used for. I thank Chaplain Jobe for her faith in me and giving me that start. I also got into photography in the prison. I was in the Service Club and took a photo of a woman who, when she saw it, said, “Jean, I’ve never looked at a picture of myself and thought it was beautiful. You gave that to me.” Just seeing that on her face jump started my passion for photography. Who said nothing good could come out of incarceration?
Learning to love myself, actually looking at myself and discovering who I was and what I had to offer people, I guess I blossomed. I wanted new and different things. I looked forward to having true friends, and if you’d told me 5 years ago that I’d be working at a church, I would have laughed at you. But that’s where God put me, and that’s where He’s using me. Every day I get to go to work and meet genuine people and I love going to work and serving those people. They are my friends. They are my family. I think I bring a little bit of excitement and joy to their lives, too.
Right before I came home from prison, my Mom reached out to me, and said how excited she was about my upcoming release. I haven’t seen my mother in 19 years. Now we have reconnected, which has taken a lot of trust on both of our parts. I thank God for the chance to know her all over again. I’m learning about my siblings and hope that one day soon I’ll be able to go to visit with all of them. At one point, I wrapped my existence around being there for my children. My relationship with my stepchildren has been a blessing, and I pray for the day that my daughter reaches out to me, and when my two youngest children are old enough to make that decision for themselves.
Freedom to me is just taking every day as a gift and making the most out of it. Living it to my fullest potential. Community is very important to me, and I believe that a lot of my success is because of the community I have in my life. I have mentors, friends, instructors, organizations - they’ve all been instrumental in easing the transition and helping me stay focused on setting my goals and achieving my dreams. They hold me accountable. When you’re incarcerated for all those years – or even a little time – when you have that sense of freedom, you need someone to hold you back a little, so you don’t go absolutely crazy with it.
Jean works for First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh and serves on Interfaith Prison Ministry for Women’s Board of Directors. She is currently enrolled at Wake Tech, where she is studying Graphic Design and Advertising. She also serves as the House Manager at Grace Home. She has a budding photography business, and many of the photos used in the Free Woman series were taken by Jean.