Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stories of Giving from Anonymous

Freedom had crept up and surprised me one morning at 5:30 a.m. The intercom blared: "INMATE WA4561 REPORT TO THE NEAREST OFFICER". It was finally August 21, 2011. I had waited for this day for what felt like a lifetime... I always knew it would come, just not as suddenly as it did. I tiptoed around my cell, careful not to wake my 7 (still) sleeping cellmates as the locks clicked and I was let out. Walking down the hallway to the officer who had just let me out, I was struck with the sad knowledge that if this "Crossroads" place didn't take me, I would've been out on the street. You see, I didn't have any family that could've or would've taken me in. I didn't have any money, unless you counted the $200 they give to you as you're walking out of the prison gates. Which, if you weren't as lucky as I was, you had to use part of that $200 pittance on a Greyhound ticket home. Where ever "home" even was... And that's it. $200 is next to nothing when you factor in food, shelter, clothing, etc. What would I have done? I knew what I would've had to have done. I would've had to sell my body to avoid being penniless and homeless... Not an ideal thought to have, just minutes after being freed from prison after a few years. I knew that I was lucky to have been accepted into the coveted Crossroads program. I knew that I was lucky that someone was going to make the drive to Chowchilla and take me there. Months before, I had been told that I was eligible for the drug program in prison. If successfully completed I would be placed in a halfway house and get out of prison 3 months earlier than my release date. After completing the program with 0 hiccups, I was told that there was a local halfway house I might be interested in. At first I was taken aback. "What?! There's no half way houses in Claremont sir.... It's Claremont. I grew up there, there's no way something like that exists. I would've heard about it." Yet, my drug counselor at CCWF was correct. There was, indeed, a halfway house in Claremont. What he failed to mention, was that it was usually meant for (older) ex-lifers. I was only 20, and a short timer. I got lucky again. Sister Terry was out of town when the newbies were being evaluated, so her director, Jackie White had accepted me on Crossroads behalf. When I got to Crossroads, I couldn't believe where it was. I've literally walked past it hundreds of times growing up, eating at Wolfe's, or just being in the village in general and never knew. I was greeted immediately by friendly staff and handed an immense care basket. In this care basket was everything one would need or want after just being released from prison. Toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, shampoo, conditioner, soap, loofah, washcloth, towel, bathrobe, hair ties, etc. but then there was something else. A warm, hand written card from a Crossroads volunteer, wishing me well and congratulating me on my freedom. Inside the card was a packet of flowers for me to grow. I was touched. After a few weeks of being in the house, learning the rules and completing tasks like obtaining a CA ID and birth certificate, we were allowed to job hunt. During this time, Crossroads had a relationship with the Browns, a local family that owned a few McDonald's restaurants nearby. They had a special relationship with Crossroads and offered the women there immediate employment after an in-home session of job training and food handling certification. I had declined, citing that I was better than fast food and better than McDonalds. I didn't want to participate in the job training, so Jackie had taken me in the car with her and we drove into the village. It was in that car that we had somewhat of a fight. She had asked me why I didn't want to participate in the McDonalds hiring process and I reiterated that I was better than fast food, therefore I would find my own job. Skeptical, she pulled over and told me good luck, and not to come back until I had a job. Jokingly, I think she thought that I wouldn't, therefore would be forced to come back with my tail between my legs and ask for the damn McDonald's application.... I didn't. After 12 no's all around the village, from Jamba Juice to Verizon Wireless, I had finally found a job. Ironically, it was right as I was about to walk back up Harvard and admit defeat, when I saw in gold plating, "The Zetterberg Building". Chuckling, I remembered how Mrs. Zetterberg was my favorite teacher at El Roble growing up, so I assumed I had this in the bag. It MUST be her husband, I'll just casually mention I was her student and see where it takes me. WRONG. Turns out the building belonged to her late father-in-law and has/had absolutely nothing to do with her. I even found out that her husband didn't even practice in his fathers building, he was right across the street on Yale. Determined not to work in the fast food industry, I asked the receptionist if there were any attorneys in the building that were hiring. To my immense surprise she said yes, he's actually here right now, let me get him. I'm greeted by an amazon of a man, at 6'4 who informs me that he is an Attorney and he is looking for an assistant for his firm. Do I have time right now to interview? As it so happened, I did and was pleasantly surprised with how well it was going til the end when he asked if I had a criminal background. Chuckling, he said he assumed no, but that he had to ask. That's when I decided to open up and tell him the whole truth. You can imagine how surprised I was when he exclaimed that I was hired, just drop off a resume the next day and meet his wife. That was October 5, 2011. I'm still here to this day, and it's all thanks to fighting with Jackie, and Crossroads. Crossroads is amazing at what they do to help women from prison stay OUT of prison. I wouldn't be where I am today without them, and all of their generosity. Crossroads allowed me to save each and every paycheck so that when I completed their program, I had saved over $6,000.00. I was able to parole 4 years earlier than what was mandated. I was able to rent my own spot. I bought my first TV. I also made countless friends at the Claremont colleges through their partnership with Nancy Neiman Auerbach who teaches at Scripps doing 'Meatless Mondays'. My favorite memory will always be teaching the older women that just got done doing 10, 15, 20 years in prison how to use Facebook. How to not only use Facebook, but help them find their kids, grand kids, friends and family members they haven't seen for all that time. Thank you for reading, and I hope you select Crossroads as the winner of your Stories of Giving!

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