VOICES FROM THE OUTSIDE

1 out of every 2 adults in the United States (113 million people) has an immediate family member who is formerly or currently incarcerated. This impacts the family's physical, mental and financial well-being, which reverberates across generations. These are not just numbers, they are human lives. Join us as we share their stories on social media.
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THIS WEEK…

Our fifth and final voice in this series belongs to Rachel. She shares a love story that begins over 20 years ago with the opening of a door. She writes of the loneliness, anger and powerlessness that comes with being married to an incarcerated man. But above all else, she shares the profound joy of their deep connection and love.

 

“What I didn’t understand when I was young was how a lifetime of trauma and abuse can twist a person into someone they probably would never have become on their own. I didn’t realize that hurt people truly do hurt people. Twenty years later I get to stand beside Mark and see how he has continually walked through the fire to become the complex, amazing man he is today.”

How did you meet your husband? 

Looking back it feels as though I was just a kid when I met Mark, although I was in my first year of college. For Christmas, my best friend came back from college on the east coast and decided to stay with her brother for the break. This was the elusive brother that I’d never met because he’d moved out of state before she and I became friends…and the same brother that when she’d shown me his picture, she made me solemnly swear I would never date him. I wonder if she had any inkling of how he and I would forever alter the course of each other’s lives. I for one had no idea. 

There are moments in life around which everything seems to orbit. For me, knocking on Mark’s front door was one of those moments. If you ask him, he’ll tell you about how he watched the shadow of a person walk past the window of his house and how he didn’t understand why his dog wasn’t barking. She always barked. I knocked on the door and Mark pulled it open, aggressive and ready to figure out what was happening. Still, no barking. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me; as did I when I saw him. I was cynical and jaded as a young adult. I didn’t believe in love at first sight and had a rather bad attitude about the idea of love in general. Yet the world shifted when I met him. It was as though everything tipped sideways and at the same moment the world exhaled and inhaled again. When it somehow righted itself nothing was ever the same. And his dog was standing beside me resting her big head against my body. 

Mark and I spent the next 36 hours talking. His sister and our friends left without me because I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere other than right there with him. When we got bored of talking in the house we drove to the beach, to the cliffs, to the pier and finally to a park where we lay on our backs watching the clouds and laughing at the shapes they made and the tales that we created from their forms.

What attracted you to this man? 

I fell in love with the intelligence, creativity, playfulness, and capacity for deep thought that existed within Mark. He amazed me. Looking back I realize that so much of what I fell in love with was the potential that I saw within him. He had what seemed to me unlimited potential and I wanted to walk by his side. What I didn’t understand when I was young was how a lifetime of trauma and abuse can twist a person into someone they probably would never have become on their own. I didn’t realize that hurt people truly do hurt people. Twenty years later I get to stand beside Mark and see how he has continually walked through the fire to become the complex, amazing man he is today. He is intelligent, creative, playful, deep thinking, and so many other things that I didn’t even know he could be. The man he has become, and continually is becoming through hard work and perseverance, is what makes it worth it to be his partner, no matter where he lives.

Tell us about your wedding day.

I have two special days connected to our wedding. The day before our wedding I woke up early and drove to a beach that is historically meaningful to both of us. I wandered the beach and thought about all the time that had passed. All the pain, heartache and joy that had been wrapped up in this almost twenty year journey. I went to the tide pools at the end of the beach and watched the anemones. Twice I looked down and found a gift from the ocean: a rock and a shell that seemed to represent us. The rock with holes throughout it, but somehow perfect.  The shell that shone iridescently, in utter beauty even though it was broken. I sat in a tide pool and placed our wedding rings beside these gifts. I listened to the waves break on the shore. I felt the inhale and exhale of the world through the waves. I took the wedding rings and bound them with sea grass. I was so glad to be at that place and that time, one day away from marrying Mark. Yet, there was also a sadness to being there alone. A little while later, I was walking along the beach and my phone rang. When I looked down and saw a collect call from Mark, my heart soared. I was not alone. We talked and I told him about the rings and the binding. I shared my feelings, my hopes, my dreams and my fears, as did he. We talked for a long time. We did ceremony together, reaching back years into the past to heal things that were broken. It was beautiful and at the end of the call, I walked down the beach to my car alone, yet always together.

The next day, after a harrowing morning of trying to get six adults and two kids to the prison on time (through identification checks, clothing checks and metal detectors), we made it the visiting room. I have never been so happy to be there. We were married outside on a hot July day in a dirt yard surrounded by slatted chain link fence. It was beautiful. Both of our mothers acted as witnesses, and our families stood by our sides. I cannot begin to describe the joy in the moments when we stood before each other and said our vows. It was a wonderful day. And then at 2:30 visiting ended and I hugged him goodbye. I went back to the hotel to swim with my son and my niece, and then on to dinner with our families…and finally to sleep by myself.

What do you struggle with the most in relationship with an incarcerated man? 

I struggle with loneliness, hopelessness, anger, resentment and powerlessness. I tried to narrow it down, but they are all intertwined and I’m not sure how to unwind them. Maybe my struggle can be seen better through one tiny glimpse into this life. Sadly, it doesn’t even rank in the things he’s gone through, but it is still fresh in my mind. One afternoon in December I got an email from Mark telling me that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and that the prison had moved him and 40 other men outside into the yard. It was a chilly day and some of the men were in their seventies. They were all COVID positive and some of them were sick. The prison left them sitting out in the cold with every item they own and no water to drink…for seven hours and twenty-five minutes. When they were finally taken inside it was 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the course of that night, I called the prison and the ombudsman multiple times but got no answer. I searched frantically for any avenue to find out why this was happening and some way to remedy it. Mostly I just called every number I have, over and over, and I cried. Can you imagine if your COVID positive loved one was left outside in icy cold weather with no water for more than seven hours?  

So that is it. A tiny snapshot of one of a thousand incidents that happen on the inside that I can’t change from out here. No matter how much I love him I can’t keep him safe or healthy. I feel powerless and that feeling twists me up inside and I end up resenting him and this life. Resentment is easier to feel than feeling the pain and hopelessness that comes with being witness to the trauma of incarceration, and feeling powerless to stop it.

What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve made?

The greatest sacrifice is the sacrifice I unknowingly asked my son to make. He is the one who has to watch me walk through the pain and fear that comes side by side with the joy of being married to someone in prison. When he and I are in the midst of a conversation, schoolwork or a project and the phone rings he knows that I’m going to answer the call and talk to Mark because I never know if/when the next phone call will come. We, as a family, make emotional, financial, and logistical sacrifices in order to maintain a relationship via prison.

What has been your greatest joy?

My greatest joy is the connection and bond we share. Being in a relationship with Mark is an experience so profound that I can’t imagine putting the feeling into words.

What is your greatest fear?

That he won’t ever come home.

Do you ever feel judged by society for your relationship? 

I would say I tend to feel isolated rather than judged. I am honest and open about my marriage and the fact that Mark is incarcerated. On the whole people have been accepting of my choice and many have been very supportive. The people who love me have had my back in this decision, even if they didn’t think it was the best choice. I feel lucky for the support I have. All that said, I still often feel isolated. People generally don’t understand the life I’ve chosen and beyond a cursory acceptance, many don’t really want to know. Prison is always in my periphery and it’s not a subject that most people want to discuss. Sometimes I feel like I am juggling two separate lives and integrating them is like trying to write a book in two different languages and expecting the reader to be able to understand.

What do you most want people to know about incarcerated people?

Incarcerated people are human. They are someone’s family. As Bryan Stevenson says, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The person each of us is at forty is very different than the person we were at twenty and this goes for incarcerated humans too. There are people inside who would like to bring light into the world and they do their damndest even when they are locked in cement boxes.

What do you most want people to know about partners/wives of incarcerated people? 

I can’t speak for other wives. In answering these questions, I realized I personally know two wives of incarcerated men. How can I speak for an entire population?  What I know about myself is that I’m tired. I haven’t seen my husband in almost a year and I suspect it will be much longer before I do. There is a level of worry in loving an incarcerated human being that just never goes away. There is loneliness that feels like it’s stealing my soul and fighting to keep it is its own battle.  

How have you seen this man grow and develop over the years? How has sitting in circle impacted him and you?

The Mark I fell in love with and the Mark I am madly in love with now are two very different people. There was a time when I was afraid that the pain inside of him was going to destroy him.  Human beings can only hold so much trauma without dealing with it before they implode. I would say Inside Circle saved his life. Or more correctly, I’d say Inside Circle gave him a place where he could save his own life. It gave him a place to do the work he so desperately needed, and the tools and bonds to make that possible. I have known for years that I am indebted to Inside Circle for helping Mark to become who he is today. I was less aware of how lost and angry I was in my own self and how desperately I needed a place to do my own work. About five years ago, Mark and I started doing work over the phone and during visits. In doing my work I felt as though my blinders were coming off and I was coming alive again. I had no idea how little I knew about myself.  A year ago I was privileged to sit in circle with Rick. He was instrumental in saving Mark’s life, but I had no idea he’d be instrumental in changing mine too. 

 #queensofthecircle

 

February 9, 2021…

Our fourth #VoicesFromTheOutside is Sarah, who shares her courageous journey of transformation as a wife of an incarcerated husband, and as a woman seeking authenticity and connection.

 

Over the last 25 years, I’ve struggled with many things in my relationship. Was I doing it right, why can’t he call, what is he doing, does he have everything he needs, is he okay? All of that is always on my mind. Not being able to feel those strong arms hold me up when I needed to be held. I struggled with the unknown and I still do till this day. It felt like I had boulders for shoulders, holding everything that he was going through and what we were going through. It wasn’t something that I could just let go of because as his wife, life partner and best friend, I too was doing his time with him.”

How did you meet your partner/husband? 

Thaddeus received a sentence of 55 years to life. We met when he had been incarcerated for a little over 2 years and the court of appeals had just granted him a new trial. It was October 1995. I was 19 years old, a full-time college student majoring in criminal justice, working 2 jobs and a daughter of a police officer. A friend in my psychology class, whose boyfriend was in the county jail, asked if she had a friend for his homeboy, and, yes, I was that friend. Sure, I’ll try anything once.

We first spoke on the phone at my friend’s house and the next evening I went to visit him at the county jail. We started writing letters which he sent to a P.O Box so my father wouldn’t find out. From then on, I would faithfully visit twice a week for a 1-hour non-contact visit.

The first thing that attracted me to him was his deep strong soothing voice. When I saw him in person, the voice definitely matched his stature and swag, like a big sexy teddy bear. As we got to know each other through letters, phone calls, and visits, our emotional bond was very clear. It sounds crazy, how could I be falling in love with a man that I’d never touched…only seen through a cloudy 11x 14 inch window and at court appearances in waist chains and shackles? But I was. I believe that my husband saw my good, caring gentle heart all wrapped up with attitude and sassiness. 

 

Tell us about your wedding day.

Our wedding day was just like a regular visit. It was on July 18th, 1997 at 8am, behind glass at George Bailey Detention Facility. I wore a grey and black houndstooth fit and flare dress with black heels. And, of course, Thaddeus was freshly shaven and dressed in his jail blues. On his side, he had his best friend, who happened to be incarcerated with him, and his best friend’s sister. I had my mother. Something that I will never forget about my wedding day is that it was the day I married my best friend.

 

What do you struggle with the  most in relationship with an incarcerated man? 

Over the last 25 years, I’ve struggled with many things in my relationship. Was I doing it right, why can’t he call, what is he doing, does he have everything he needs, is he okay? All of that is always on my mind. Not being able to feel those strong arms hold me up when I needed to be held. I struggled with the unknown and I still do till this day. It felt like I had boulders for shoulders, holding everything that he was going through and what we were going through. It wasn’t something that I could just let go of because as his wife, life partner and best friend, I too was doing his time with him.

There were many sacrifices over the years, but what I didn’t do was put my life on hold and stop living. I didn’t have that choice. My main sacrifice was my mental health. I made sure everyone else was ok while falling into a deep dark hole, suffering in silence, but I had to just keep pushing through. It wasn’t just him I had to be strong for, but also for our daughter. Even during the darkest times, I managed to continue my education and earned my degree in criminal Justice. It may have taken me 10 years, but for me that was a big accomplishment.

Distance impeded our visitation for the majority of our relationship which was a big sacrifice as well. He’s only been within 300 miles for a total of 9 years of our relationship. That was extremely hard on all of us in so many ways. At times it just wasn’t logistically or financially feasible to visit. It was very difficult to maintain that bond even with letters and phone calls. It felt like CDCR was punishing us as a family by housing him so far from home.

I’ve felt a lot of judgement over the years for my relationship not only from society but from my own family. People thought I was lonely, had low self-esteem and just plain stupid. But I was none of the above. Folks would talk about me behind my back, but never to my face. It seemed as if people were scared or apprehensive to approach me, hmm wonder why? It’s not like I kept it a secret. The only person that ever said anything to me about it was my father. I knew I had broken my dad’s heart and I sincerely understand why. No parent wants to see their child choose to be in a relationship with someone incarcerated, let alone someone with the amount of time my husband was facing.

My greatest fear has always been him never coming home. I was convinced that he was going to hurt someone else and end up not ever coming home because he caught another charge. We’ve only had one parole hearing which ended up with a 5 year denial. 

 

What has been your greatest joy? 

The first and foremost joy is of course our beautiful daughter. Now 19 years old, she is an education major on a full Scholarship at a Private University. My second greatest joy was the first time we had a contact visit almost 5 years after we met and 3 years after we were married. He literally walked right past me because I had dropped 200 pounds and looked a bit different than I did before. I will never forget the look on his face when he saw me. It was epic!

 

What do you most want people to know about incarcerated humans?

They breathe air and have blood running through their veins just like people on the outside. They are fathers, sons, brothers and uncles. The majority of people incarcerated carry some type of trauma that has been either hidden or unaddressed for many years. 

 

What do you most want people to know about partners/wives of incarcerated humans?

Although we have CDCR in common, we are all different. There are people from every tax bracket, education level, occupation and faith. We are mothers, wives, significant others, daughters and sisters. Some of the strongest women I’ve ever met are in this lifestyle. The saying “Only the Strong Survive” comes to mind when I think of other wives, especially those who’s loved one has a life sentence or a ridiculous amount of time like me. There are those who actually get involved in various ways to advocate for their loved ones. I became involved with the Inmate Family Council (IFC) as a board member for 2 years.  We work very closely with the administration at the prison to address all matters from concerns about regulations to the need to make the visiting environment more welcoming. My time spent on the IFC was very eye opening – it showed me how hard it is to get anything done. 

I’ve met a lot of women over the years and not everyone is cut out for this lifestyle.  We are a reflection of our loved one. If we’re not careful, trust too easy or like to run our mouths, we will get eaten alive and could possibly cause harm to our loved one as well. 

 

How has sitting in circle impacted you and Thaddeus?

Before he was invited to the circle, he had a very tough exterior, the mindset of “I’m gonna get them before they get me.” He had walls up about everything, and a hurtful way of communicating. Unfortunately, I was at the receiving end of this and the dynamic of our marriage and his relationship with our daughter changed drastically. For a few years, we weren’t on speaking terms due the toxicity of his words. Divorce became a very common word that was added to both of our vocabularies. 

I knew Thaddeus had joined a Men’s Group, but I didn’t know the depth of it. Over the years, I noticed that he had become easier to talk to and there was this gentleness that wasn’t there before. After discovering that he was in the documentary “The Work” I realized that Inside Circle was the reason for his many changes. 

As time went on and we were back on speaking terms, Thaddeus was transferred back down to Southern California and our visits began again. We had a lot of catching up to do, and most importantly we were focused on resurrecting that daddy/daughter bond. After all she’s “Daddy’s Sunshine” and a beacon of hope for him. It didn’t take long to notice the changes in him…his demeanor, his tone and his body language. I remember at one visit asking him, “who are you and what have you done with my husband?” It was truly a blessing. It was beginning to feel like I had my best friend back. 

In 2018, I told him that I had found and watched “The Work.” He had no idea that it had even been released. We had many conversations about his experiences in circle. How he processed a lot of the teachings, how he had to dig deep, how he learnt to trust others and how through the process itself he could finally give himself the permission to do his work. He warned me on many occasions when I expressed an interest in doing my own work, that this shit is hard and that I better be ready to be authentically vulnerable!

In March of 2020, I began doing my own work. I was at a point in my life where I had shut myself off from everyone and had become more of an introvert. Social Anxiety is something that I have struggled with for years, so when Inside Circle started a virtual weekly circle, I was all in.  I jumped on that opportunity with a quickness and at just the right time. It also gave me the chance to sit in circle with Rick, a man that Thaddeus sat in circle with for years while at New Folsom… a man that he had trusted with his own work; a man for whom we both had the utmost respect…another one in the win column for me!

 

My first couple of circles, I just observed. I watched others do their work and it was amazing. I started to feel like I could do this and the next week I started my work. Slowly but surely, Rick helped me begin my journey and I felt something inside of me that I’ve never felt before. I didn’t know what it was…it felt somewhat peaceful; ugly and beautiful all at the same time. Over the weeks and months, the faces changed in those 12 boxes but a lot of them kept showing up. With the ones that showed up consistently, a bond has been formed through tears, screams, laughter and most importantly safety. My Wednesday nights at 6pm have become the only safe place I’ve ever had in my life. I have finally found an outlet that I have been longing for without being judged and allowing me to become vulnerable for the first time in years.

 

In October of 2020, my best friend and I took a road trip to see my daughter at school. It was an awesome weekend to have some much needed girl time. On our way home, she said that she noticed a good change in me and asked me if I was seeing a therapist. I laughed and answered yes, but I told her that this good change didn’t come from a therapy session, it was a direct reflection on what circle work can do for someone. She wasn’t the only person to notice, my daughter and husband also noticed the work I have been doing. Though I wasn’t seeking or needing validation from anyone, when my husband said he was proud of me, that meant the world to me. We are now seeing and hearing each other authentically for the first time in years.  

A quote from Thaddeus that rings true for me as well is: “Inside Circle gave me the permission and courage to be a better me.”

February 2, 2021

Our third #VoicesFromTheOutside spotlight is on Ciera, who shows fierce strength, loyalty, and perseverance in supporting and advocating for her husband, Darrion, while he is on the inside. We hope you enjoy and find inspiration in her story.

 

I have found so much joy in our face-to-face family time together without interruption. I think so often people get caught up with life and forget the immense value of quality time with the people we love. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone and each time I hear his voice I’m reminded of that simple truth. “

 

How did you meet your partner/husband? 

I was introduced to Darrion by a coworker. At that time I was interested in a pen pal. I knew he was older than me and I thought I could get dating advice because I was not having much success in the men department.  Darrion and I wrote letters and talked on the phone for a few months and then we met in person. 

When I saw Darrion for the first time, I knew at that moment he was my person. Physically he was tall, dark, and handsome. Moreover he was emotionally present, honest, transparent. He did not have a “hardcore,”  “bad boy” mentality. Darrion was gentle, kind, and respectful. There were times I could tell he was a little nervous and shy. I was surprised with his humility and kindness in person.

Due to several failed relationships, Darrion and I had programmed ourselves to have “no expectations” when we met someone of interest. I believe this gave us time to get to know one another without the pressure of a relationship commitment. During that time we explored religion and different ideologies together. Darrion and I are very spiritual. Once we got to know each other better I believe we both saw that each other’s intentions were pure and we felt safe with one another.

 

What do you struggle with the most in relationship with an incarcerated man? 

Being in a relationship with an incarcerated person can at times be overwhelming and stressful, especially when going to court or the parole board. Incarcerated people seldom have access to resources, family members, and friends when preparing for a parole hearing. In order to ensure Darrion was prepared for his hearing I reached out to his family and friends to assist with writing support letters. I also reached out to several organizations within the community that could support Darrion’s transition, such as transitional housing, churches, and gyms. Parole plans are very specific and the documents need to be current within six months of a hearing. Assisting with this process can be a lot of work, researching and printing documents, and communicating with Darrion’s family and friends in a timely manner. The documents need to be mailed to Darrion so he can submit copies via mail to the parole board. Incarcerated people and their loved ones put a lot of time and effort into parole board hearings and unfortunately most initial parole reviews are denied.

In 2019 Darrion was eligible to be resentenced under a new law that passed in California. He had to submit a petition to the court and then be assigned a public defender to represent him. This was my first time working with the public defender’s office and I discovered that most public defenders are overwhelmed with hundreds of cases at a time. Often my phone calls, and emails went unanswered. At one time the public defender assigned to Darrion’s case told me I was the best personal assistant he ever had. I would email him pdf files of Darrion’s case in hopes he would have time to read my emails. Darrion and I went through his entire case and listed the exact page numbers, and at one point I hired a paralegal to draft an argument to help the public defender. Fortunately with the help of close friends and family I created a GoFundMe account and I hired a private Attorney to represent Darrion. His case is now moving forward.

My greatest sacrifice has been the amount of time and dedication it takes to stand by someone in prison. Family members of incarcerated people do time mentally, and most often this is with very limited support. I struggle with having to make decisions that impact our family by myself without Darrion’s input. 

In February 2020, prisons eliminated visitation due to the COVID19 pandemic. This impacted my family in the most unimaginable ways. Most importantly our daughter is having a difficult time understanding why we can’t see Dad. In the beginning she would wake up on the weekend and ask if we could visit Dad. I would hide my tears and explain to her that due to COVID we can’t at this time. Having to explain this to a four year old child has been very painful. For the incarcerated population mostly all jobs and classes have been eliminated. Luckily, Darrion found an opportunity to take classes via mail.  

Prior to the pandemic we would visit Darrion every weekend. We were very close. Unfortunately, It’s been almost a year since we have seen each other and we all miss each other so much. Our only way to communicate now is over the phone or by mail. Darrion is lucky to use the pay phone two or three times a week for thirteen minutes. When he has an opportunity to call I’m able to update him on our family and his case. We’re not able to talk much about how we are feeling or how we are holding up. Darrion has started writing more letters, however writing letters is particularly harder for me raising our daughter, working full time and maintaining a household.

I find that friends and family are unable to understand how I could possibly find love and happiness with an incarcerated man. They judge Darrion solely because he is incarcerated. I have lost a few close friendships since I met Darrion. I now choose to keep my relationship private because I want to protect my family and my peace. Darrion and I try to remain positive and hopeful at all times, and keeping my relationship private for the most part allows me to manage. 

 

What has been your greatest joy? 

I have found so much joy in our face-to-face family time together without interruption. I think so often people get caught up with life and forget the immense value of quality time with the people we love. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone and each time I hear his voice I’m reminded of that simple truth. 

 

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear for Darrion is when he comes home. He has been incarcerated for twenty-five years now, I know he feels like he has twenty-five years of time to make up for, and I fear he will take on more than he can handle. Darrion thinks that when he comes home all problems will be solved and that he can fix everything. 

 

What do you most want people to know about incarcerated people?

They are humans! Incarcerated people do not eat four course meals every day contrary to popular belief. 

 

What do you most want people to know about partners/wives of incarcerated people?

I want people to know that partners/wives are not all desperate and searching for love and attention. I found real love with Darrion, and this is true for a lot of women in these relationships. 

 

How has Inside Circle impacted him and you?

Darrion has been a part of Inside Circle’s men’s group on the inside, since before being introduced to me. When I came into Darrion’s life he was supposed to help me and give me advice. We never expected the tables would be turned and that by meeting me he realized he still had his own work to do. What I appreciate most about Darrion is that when I call him on his work he is completely open to hearing what I have to say.

 

Ciera

 

#QueensOfTheCircle

#queensofthecircle #voicesfromtheoutside

January 25, 2021…

Hear from Heather Misener, the woman married to Inside Circle facilitator, Rick Misener.

“Inside Circle invited Rick to be the man he is today.  Many years ago, on the day that he stepped into his first circle, his response was to simply check in and say nothing more. It took many more circles for him to begin to share and heal. Now, both he and I have received the gift of participating in Outside Circle Intensives together, which has deepened our relationship. We have encountered not only the remarkable men who offered their gifts, but also the extraordinary women who have brought feminine energy to these circles, completing it in a new way, allowing it to come full circle.”   

How did you meet your husband?

I met Rick at New Folsom prison one Christmas Eve.  For over a year, my sister Lauren had been involved in prison ministry on a weekly basis with 12 men. She received clearance for me to join their holiday celebration in the prison chapel.  I had already built up anticipation for meeting these men, especially Rick because my sister talked about how he showed up in her life and helped her to do her inner work. I flew across the country, and when my sister picked me up from the airport, she handed me a beaded cross necklace that Rick had made for me. I was deeply touched that this man who had never met me would gift me something that was so beautiful and spiritual to me.

 

For over a year, I prayed for a person to enter my life who would help me be the Heather that God called me to be. I prayed for this, not knowing who this person might be. I was standing in the New Folsom chapel having a powerful conversation with Marty Williams when Rick walked over. When Marty answered a question that I asked, Rick put his leg up on the chair and leaned in to hear what Marty had to say. My immediate reaction was, “This man knows how to listen!”  For the rest of my time in that chapel, I was smitten with a man who I knew was authentic. I left with the hope that he saw and loved my authenticity as well.  He did see that and loved me for it even though this type of feminine bond was so new for him.

 

Tell us about your wedding day…

Our wedding was a Catholic/Native ceremony on the Delta King ship lodged on the Sacramento River.  It was a joyous day to have my family there, as well as Eldra, Manny, and Aaron in our wedding party…men who were in prison with Rick and now standing at his side. They came to celebrate along with their remarkable wives. Dennis Merino, a former chaplain at New Folsom, married us.  The joy for me on that day was to experience our union with people from all walks of life: guests being smudged, rattles shaking, songs, poems and scripture shared. I was overwhelmed listening to “Ave Maria” and kneeling with Rick in front of a Blessed Virgin statue…Mother Mary to whom I had prayed fervently for years to help this man I loved walk outside of the prison walls. 

 

What has been your greatest struggle as the partner of an incarcerated man?

 

Throughout our 10 year relationship, I lived across the country from Rick. I did not see him for 5 of those years because the visits became emotionally, physically, and financially taxing, especially when he was transferred to different prisons across Southern California.

I struggled with not having a partner by my side, the absence of physical touch, the inconsistency of the prison system, the money I spent on phone calls, packages, lawyers, and travel expenses.  I advocated for support letters, called and talked to associate wardens, and fought like a bulldog for him.  


 

When Rick was incarcerated, my struggle was feeling unsafe in sharing our relationship with other people. It is not the norm to be in a relationship with an incarcerated man. While my family and close friends knew, it was an ongoing struggle for me to hide a part of my life that was in every grain of my being.  For years, I didn’t disclose my relationship to many people because I did not want to be judged by those who are ignorant and critical of the incarcerated population. Now that Rick is released, I still trip a little when I tell people of his history and his past, yet now if they choose to judge him/us, I know that’s its on them.

 

Yet, my greatest sacrifice was my longing with great heartache for Rick to be free.  Did I have hope? Yes.  Yet, along the way I sobbed, I screamed, I prayed, I questioned my strength, and I dug deep within myself to persevere. And then, I sobbed, I screamed, and I prayed some more. Rick did his time and, like all loved ones of those incarcerated, I did the time too.

 

What has been your greatest joy now that your husband is on the outside?

My greatest joy is confirming what we both knew and prayed to the Creator in the visiting room…that Rick’s gifts were meant to be shared in the world beyond his confinement in prison. My joy was for my family to meet him, for his family to see him released, and for all the small daily moments/routines that we now share together that others typically take for granted.

 

What do you want people to know about those who are incarcerated?

I want people to know that incarcerated men are not their CDC numbers. I know Rick’s by heart. Even though these men are assigned a number, they should not be branded for life because of the wrong choices they made. I have met the most spiritual, mystical, educated, compassionate, evolved men in prison…men who I know do not belong there anymore.  I know a man doing time without the possibility of parole, a mystic, who simply longs to climb a tree.

 

What do you want people to know about the partners of incarcerated people?

The partners and wives of those incarcerated are resilient, tough, compassionate, and phenomenal humans. They are some of the most bad ass chicks I have ever been blessed to meet. They have walked in and out of prisons multiple times and have seen and heard the slamming metal door that separates them from those they love so deeply. I am one of them.

 

How has sitting in circle impacted you and your husband?

Inside Circle invited Rick to be the man he is today.  Many years ago, on the day that he stepped into his first circle, his response was to simply check in and say nothing more. It took many more circles for him to begin to share and heal. Now, both he and I have received the gift of participating in Outside Circle Intensives together, which has deepened our relationship. We have encountered not only the remarkable men who offered their gifts, but also the extraordinary women who have brought feminine energy to these circles, completing it in a new way, allowing it to come full circle. 

#queensofthecircle #voicesfromtheoutside

January 19, 2021…

Hear the voice of Holly Jackson, a woman married to Inside Circle’s Co-Executive Director, Eldra Jackson III

“When I met my husband he was in prison and already a part of Inside Circle (men’s group). Being in circle allowed him to get up close and personal with himself and why he made the choices in life that he did. I’m so happy that he was able to find Inside Circle. If he hadn’t, we would never have met or wouldn’t have even liked each other if we did happen to meet. Without him doing his own work; we wouldn’t be together and he wouldn’t be a free man.” 

What did you see and love in your husband?

We started out as pen pals. At first I was attracted to a picture he sent me – he was a strong, reserved and quiet man who looked like a challenge. It didn’t look like just any woman would be able to catch his eye or reach inside him. Then, over time, I fell in love, discovering that we thought alike and could understand each other completely. He’s amazing and has an air about him that people are drawn to and respect. I love his love for people. He’s a great provider, protector of his family and very smart. He’s a leader and someone that I look up to. It’s easy to be completely a woman with him and not have any responsibilities if I don’t want them. My shoulders are much lighter since meeting him.

 

Tell us about your wedding day.

He proposed while we were getting a picture taken in the visiting room so the cameraman could capture my reaction. I never wanted a wedding in prison so we waited until he was home. A volunteer inside the prison had a vision that she would preside over our wedding ceremony. 8 years and 5 months after we met, we were married at that volunteer’s house; in her huge backyard under some tall pine trees that were given to her on her anniversary by her husband. I wore a pink wedding dress because that’s his favorite color on me. We were surrounded by close friends and family on our wedding day. I’ll never forget the looks on the guests’ faces when my future husband and I stood back to back to signify that we would always have each other’s backs like we did when he was on the inside. I bet they had never seen that before at a wedding. 

 

What did you struggle with the most in relationship with an incarcerated man?

What I struggled with the most when he was on the inside was the need to be held/touched by my man in my everyday life. I was so deprived of the natural touch that comes in a relationship on the outside. In the visiting room, they want to see light in between people’s bodies, so we were practically only allowed to hold hands. There isn’t much cuddling, depending on where you’re at and who’s in charge. I remember sitting in the backseat with my friend and her man, and seeing her hand rested on his leg. I got so jealous because I couldn’t have that. It was hard being around other men. That longing inside me craved the male energy and a simple platonic touch on the shoulder was way too much for me after years of a prison relationship.

 

While he was on the inside, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my relationship. No one to go to when I was having problems. My family didn’t support my decision and didn’t even want to meet him. It seemed like they were secretly hoping that being with him was just a phase I was going through. Any friends I told didn’t understand or support the relationship. I got to the point that I pretended to be single or in a long distance relationship because it made more sense to people. Otherwise I would see the judgements in their eyes or have to answer a lot of negative questions under the guise of them having my best interests at heart.

 

My biggest sacrifice as the partner/wife of an incarcerated man was putting my life on hold. I did the last 8 years of his incarceration with him. Family members of the incarcerated also do time. We are on hold out here. I was on hold to have my man with me consistently like relationships on the outside. On hold to be physical, on hold to have kids, on hold to get married…I couldn’t just reach out to my partner if there was an emergency or if I needed support. I had to write him a letter or wait for him to call me. 

 

My greatest fear while he was on the inside was that he wouldn’t ever come home. He had life with the possibility of parole and had to get approved to be released. We went through multiple denials from the board. Each time he went before the board we would hope that they would say yes. It would be a “no” and we would be devastated. Why couldn’t they see the change that I saw in him!? As the years went on I lost more and more hope.

 

My greatest joy when he was inside is how close we became. The communication while he was inside was like nothing else! We had built such a strong foundation because we really couldn’t do much of anything except communicate. He took care of my emotional needs by being fully present to me every time we were together since physical time was so precious. He made sure that I knew who I was to him and I could see myself through his eyes.

 

What was life like after he came home?

After he came home, I struggled with the change in him. While he was on the inside, he spoke my love language and met my emotional needs. When he got home, he changed how he showed love since he had more options. It’s not my love language so it doesn’t always translate for me. I also struggled with him closing off and feeling like I was his roommate and not his wife. It didn’t matter what I said or did; he wouldn’t change. That was the hardest time in our marriage and I didn’t think we would survive. 

 

I didn’t realize it then but I shut down. I was numb and not present in my life. It ended up being one of the reasons that we are still together today. If I was present in myself and life, I don’t think that I could have put up with an emotionally absent man. 

 

I came to find out that my husband was suffering from post incarceration syndrome. Sometimes that doesn’t show up until years after being released. 

 

How has sitting in circle impacted him and you?

I was introduced to self and circle work through my husband and I’m truly grateful. I thought that I was living life…I thought that I was good. My self work busted open a Pandora’s Box of work that would never again be closed. 

 

He tried teaching me how to do my work inside a prison visiting room with what felt like all eyes on me. My husband is what I call a cliff pusher. He’ll ask if you are ready to do your work and if you say yes, he’ll grab you and throw you off the cliff into the abyss. The great thing is that he will dive off the cliff with you and go wherever that leads. It doesn’t matter how ugly it looks or how deep the trauma is…he’ll be there right with you the whole way. 

 

I attended an Outside Circle Intensive run by Inside Circle and my work ended up showing me that I was numb and not doing anything in my relationship. Powerful women from Woman Within banded together to help me let my inner flame roar and burn to create new life. It started the process of burning my numbness and preparing me to make decisions in my relationship. 

 

My work is exhausting and never ending. Sometimes I dream of the days when I didn’t know all that I do now. But I really wasn’t living. I only have one chance to live my most authentic life. Without this work I wouldn’t be married… marriage is hard. I’m extremely blessed that my husband is open to gentle guidance when there’s something that can be looked at to improve our lives. Sometimes all I need is to say something, and he will slowly evaluate what I said. It’s so beautiful to see him end up doing work on those things later on. I feel such a relief and a weight being released from my body during those times.

 

My greatest joy now is getting to experience this journey of our relationship together. I’ve dealt with keeping people at bay and being numb since I was a child. Through circles I’ve been working on breaking those barriers down and living more present and free. It’s amazing to now be able to connect with my husband on so many different levels. Sometimes the connection feels almost “spiritual”…like I’ve transcended to another dimension.

 

What do you most want people to know about incarcerated people?

They are HUMANS! They are broken individuals who lost their way and made horrible choices that affected multiple other lives. They are worth something too and have so much knowledge to give back. Let them help make a change in our lives for the better. Let their lived experiences and lessons learned help current and future generations. They are worth more than they believe they are and shouldn’t be tossed aside by society.

 

What do you most want people to know about partners/wives of incarcerated people?

We aren’t always making a bad mistake or getting into a relationship with a man inside because we are broken. This isn’t the life I would have chosen for myself. This isn’t the life I would recommend for another woman unless the incarcerated person had done a lot of inner work. This isn’t the life I would choose again if something happened to my husband, but I would do it again with him wholeheartedly! This choice isn’t easy in any way, but it’s very beautiful and rewarding if it’s done with the right one at the right time.

 

HOLLY