I am formerly incarcerated, and I have spent a few Valentine’s days in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). On holidays, there is a feeling of loneliness like no other behind the brick walls of prison. I remember the homemade cards women would receive from their children in the days leading up to February 14th. Husbands would send thoughtful cards to their wives. Those cards were a glimpse of hope and humanity sent from the outside.
As of May 27, 2020, nearly 4,500 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas, nearly 12 times the number of cases this time one month ago. Thus far, 36 incarcerated people have died and at least five officers have lost their lives. Tens of thousands of men and women have been on lockdown in their cells or dorms for a month or more. There appears to be little end in sight.
In 2011, I heard a loud bang on my door. My heart began to pound in my chest. I’d heard that knock before. A “cop” knock. Complete and utter despair set in when I heard the officer call my full name, demanding I open the door or he would kick it in and take me to jail for everything he found in that room. I started taking inventory of all the illegal things my trafficker had done, everything he’d forced me to do, and what we had in that room. I wasn’t quite sure why the officer was threatening to kick our door in, but I was sure I knew the only possible outcome.
I recently shared my story as part of a restorative justice program at the Kyle State Prison Unit for men. It was the first time I had stepped foot in an adult unit in over a decade. After I shared my experience, the men, facilitators and I broke into groups to discuss my story in depth. I could see the hunger for change in these men’s eyes as they questioned me about my prison experiences, the challenges of getting out, and what it took to stay out for good.
Three years ago, I traveled from Austin to Sacramento, California, to attend Survivors Speak—an annual event hosted by the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), which brings together the largest gathering of crime survivors in the United States. The event allows crime survivors to share stories, honor loved ones, and advocate for change.