The stigma of being labeled a felon weighs on you; it can break you. Your dignity is shattered and that label prohibits you from walking in the fullness of God and you begin to doubt yourself. Your mind is shrouded with questions. You start to question your relationships with people you meet. Will they judge me? Once I tell them will I be treated differently? Because you are acutely aware that once it’s out there, you are forever open and exposed.
You then begin the journey of proving yourself. You become competitive at work, school, and other areas with the hopes that no one sees your scarlet “F”. Weariness, exhaustion and depression may kick in; however, you must keep up the pace because you are eager to prove your worthiness to a society who says you’re not. You go to church, study the Word, and you fellowship with other believers and you sit and pray with them and you tithe. Yet you only engage to a certain point because you are not sure how the Body of Christ will receive you—if they only knew the truth.
This is my reality and the unfortunate reality of those who are incarcerated eager to return home.
During my incarceration, I made a promise to God that as He walked with me through this journey, I would use my voice for change. As the Training and Reentry Specialist for Jobs for Life, part of my role is to support and educate our leaders in understanding the epidemic of mass incarceration, develop training opportunities and provide resources to support those who work with this population.
This is also why I have decided to take part in the CCDA Locked in Solidarity Prayer Gathering on Thursday, February 12. These gatherings will take place all over the country, where people will spend time praying for our brothers and sisters for reconciliation, redemption and restoration. I will be leading a prayer gathering in Raleigh, NC. [For more information about Miea’s Locked in Solidarity prayer gathering, click here.]
For the past two years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to attend CCDA’s National Conference. My first CCDA conference was held in New Orleans—and as a lover of all things New Orleans I became immensely nestled in their culture, food, and festivities. As a first-time participant of the event, I must admit I was overwhelmed. This was my first national anything and although my job had an existing relationship with CCDA, I had no idea what they were about.
It didn’t take long for me to learn God had me in the right place.
I instantly became drawn in by the plenaries, Bible studies, workshops, great food and fellowship. As I listened to Coach and Dr. Perkins in the morning, I sometimes felt as if I were sitting at the feet of Jesus. Something stirred deep within my spirit.
The theme for the conference was Cultivate and the industry topic focused on mass incarceration. I had the privilege of hearing Professor Michelle Alexander speak. She is an Associate Professor of Law at The Ohio State University, a civil rights activist and author of the trailblazing book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Hearing her speak, something resonated deep within me. Instantly, I felt a connection, a spark perhaps, like “finally someone gets it—gets me”. I thought, who is this woman, how can I meet her and are there others out there like her? As usual, I never spoke about it but I could feel a tug, a yearning. Before I left, I wanted to get my hands on as much material as possible. Eager to learn and grow, I purchased CDs, DVDs, and Professor Alexander’s book.
Little did I know God was setting the stage……
Last year, I could not wait to attend the CCDA National Conference. I was excited to learn the conference would be in Raleigh. My new supervisor, Byron McMillan, had been hired two weeks before the conference started. As a member of the host team, I became eager to glean from him the principles of CCDA. I could see how it made him a better husband, father, and follower of Christ. Again, I felt a stirring in my spirit.
However, this conference impacted me in ways that I will never completely understand. Flourish was the theme, based on Jeremiah 29. Coincidentally, Jeremiah 29:11-14 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. The Bible studies, plenaries and workshops were amazing; however, something jarred within me. I felt empowered; my posture changed and my vision shifted in the way I saw myself. It is difficult to articulate exactly what I experienced, but every day I walked into that convention center, I heard the voice of God say, “You are welcome here”.
That was it. I decided to take action—to take ownership of the gifts God had given me.
After the conference ended, I contacted Michelle Warren, CCDA’s Advocacy & Policy Engagement Director. At the conference, I heard CCDA had a mass incarceration task force, and I wanted to learn how I could join. We talked for several minutes as I shared my background, passion, and why I felt it was important for me to be a part of this amazing group. During that conversation, she told me they had been praying for a former offender to join—someone who could share his or her personal experience to the plight of mass incarceration and be a part of a movement to end it.
Thank you to Miea Walker for allowing us to use this excerpt from her blog. Click here to learn more about Miea and to read the rest of her blog.