“As I looked at the women around me, I imagined the little girls they once were. The delicate little angels they were to someone. I saw their bright eyes, once filled with wonder and excitement from the magic of life. How their imaginations soared. I saw their wide smiles and heard their childish laughter as they innocently ran and played. I felt their carefree spirits, which allowed them to dream of the many possibilities that laid ahead for them. I saw their eager little feet rushing to carry them to heights unknown. I felt their spirits of determination bursting to explore the world around them. I wonder what happened along the way to their dreams.  What turn of events claimed them? What lead them to be Women in Trouble?   I listened.

I wrote that piece over a decade ago. I recently met a woman who reminded me of the women I had written about. This woman had spent over thirty-two years of her life in prison. She had been encaged at the tender age of sixteen. I was heartfelt to learn that her youth, early adulthood and into her middle years had been snatched from her. Why, I didn’t ask.

If it wasn’t for the change made in the law, she would have spent all her life locked up like a caged animal.

When I looked at her, time appeared to have preserved her looks. But, her facial expressions told the story of the hell she had lived through. She was a child thrown into the madness of imprisoned traumatized women and left to the cruelty of adult male guards. My mind cannot phantom the fright even more so the terror her inner child hides from.

I’m sure her child mind at sixteen could not conceptualize what the judge pronouncement when he sentenced her to-LIFE. Her fate heavily hung on the fact that she was “Poor White Trash.” In other words, “No Money, No Justice” not in this American Legal System.

During our very first conversation it was profoundly obvious that she was suffering from PICS that is Post InCarceration Syndrome. She spoke of the anxiety she had and was experiencing. Something as simple as crossing the street led her to falling and injuring herself as she rushed to the other side. She had heard gun shots in the neighborhood she lived, and her anxiety kept her locked in her rooms for weeks. Going to the store and being around people was debilitating. For decades she had not been able to look at her true imagine in a real mirror, now she saw a stranger starring back at her.

Free at forty-eight she is having an out of the body experience living because all she knows is prison life.

Though she has her physical freedom she is still encaged in her mind. Living in a constant state of anxiety of not knowing what to do, what to say, and who to trust. Looking like a woman but having only the experience of a child is a daily challenge. Everything for her is an alien experience. She’s a child lost in space….to be continued. By Penda Te.

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