I found out about the College and Community Fellowship in the last six months of my incarceration, during a workshop about post-incarceration transitional services. The first time I went to CCF, I was scared. I had the stigma of incarceration and I didn’t know how I’d be treated. But when I arrived, I saw that everyone at CCF had walked in the same shoes I had and were moving forward with their lives. It was comforting and inspiring to find other women with similar experiences and similar hopes.
CCF played a huge role in my ability to stick with my studies after I got out of prison. My mother passed away just four days after I was released, so I was dealing with a lot of grief alongside caring for my three children and looking after my father. Throughout that time, I had an outlet at CCF that helped me keep my focus. I got high grades in school, but when I felt overwhelmed, I could always turn to CCF for support.
In my three years at CCF, the doors to communication kept me going. My sons and my father were counting on me to be strong. And after being out of my sons’ lives for three years, I needed to show them that a person can do something wrong and recover from it, overcome the stigma and the bias, and elevate herself. That’s why ‘No, I can’t’ is not acceptable vocabulary in my house.
I think so highly of CCF because at this organization, words are followed by action. Many groups promise things, but once you get there, they have another agenda. At CCF, you get exactly what they say they’re going to do—they are reliable, helpful, and affirming.
Sometimes life deals you a certain hand and you have to decide what to do with it. That is where education comes into play. My degrees and my achievements all contribute to my character now. Education puts you into a new environment—you’re studying, your social circle becomes more positive, you meet other students you can talk to and relate to, you learn how to advocate and speak up for what’s right.
At CCF, I was surrounded by people who helped me create a new mind-frame, elevate myself through education, and remind other women that incarceration doesn’t have to define their life.