Friday, November 10, 2017

L.I.N.K.S.


For the past decade or so I have been thinking about how I might turn this experience into action. There has always been something keeping me from being able to give more of myself to anything other than my family. Between sports and other extracurricular activities my evenings have been pretty busy. Throw in prison visits and other weekend commitments and that left me no time for anything else.

Then, five years ago, our surprise baby made her debut. It was the middle of October of 2012 and she was the cutest little thing! Everyone loved her right away. And even though she was unexpected she was not unwanted, she completed our family. So, big brother (who was still only two years old himself) was thrilled with the addition and life was pretty good. Then, five weeks later, our world changed when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It was the worst time of my life. Even worse than when my husband lost his freedom. This diagnosis sucked the joy out of me and I was suddenly drowning. The overwhelming feeling stayed with me for about two years. I was living moment by moment, one finger prick at a time... it was horrifying! Few people could understand how devastated I was and they were the ones who helped me as I found my way out. During this time, I operated in auto-pilot; taking kids to school events, working, visiting my husband, caring for my children, living- repeat. 

I have finally fully recovered from being absent from my own life. I have awakened from my coma, so to speak. So, now what? Well... I started writing this blog and suddenly I felt lighter, more awake. I started sharing my experiences with whoever would listen and that felt good. I even went as far as telling a mother in my class about my journey. Her significant other had just been sent to state prison from the county jail and she had no idea how to find out where he was. I took a deep breath and showed her the website on the computer. Then I answered her questions (how do I know so much about this, etc?) It was as though I had transformed into some sort of mystical creature right in front of her eyes. That's when I knew that I needed to do something. Keeping my experiences to myself was helping no one.

This past August, a couple of days after my daughter's wedding, I was offered a position working outside of the classroom and I accepted. I have been the Community School Resource Teacher this year and I couldn't love it anymore than I do! As soon as I started my new position, I learned about one of the goals we needed to address as a school and it had to do with "meeting the social-emotional needs of our students." Of course, my mind started to wander towards children of incarceration because my school is located on the very street where my husband was arrested and I know that many of our kids deal with incarceration. I let my thoughts marinate for a couple of months and finally, a week or so ago, I started sharing an idea with a couple of my colleagues.

"Wouldn't it be awesome if we could run a group for kids affected by incarceration?" That was my pitch, the idea would be to gather these children and help them write letters to their loved ones. We would supply paper, envelopes, stamps and a return address. Also, a safe place where they could share their feelings and know that they are not alone in this. Everyone thought it was a good idea, including my Principal, who has been a strong supporter from the moment she heard it. One of the Social Workers has given me incredible encouragement and support in turning this idea into a project. So far, everyone who I have approached in support of the development of this program has agreed to help.

So, now we needed a name for our program. I immediately thought about my husband who had long ago told me about a community group he dreamed of forming one day. He wanted to call it LINKS (Linking Ideas Nurtures Kids' Success) and though his concept was a little different than mine, the goal was the same; to uplift our kids! He has written many poems, program designs, songs, etc. surrounding the theme, it's his passion. When he called me that weekend, I told him all about the project and that I would like to use the acronym he created and he loved it! We were ready to roll. I got to work on a brochure and permission slips, the next step will be to recruit students for our group. Though  we haven't event sent letters yet, we already have two members; one young man whose both parents are incarcerated and a young lady who is grieving the loss of her dear grandmother then her dad went to jail, all within a month. They will start to see us even before the group is formed, they need us and each-other now.

My heart is so full because I see how I can finally turn my pain into something positive. I only wish there had been programs available for my kids and our family that would have helped us cope with the sadness and other feelings that come with incarceration. I'm thankful, however, that I've had the opportunities that have brought me to this place in time. With this project I hope to be laying the groundwork for my husband to build upon, his plan is to work with kids to end the prison cycle. I will start to think of the last 24 years as training for the work that lays ahead.