My dear Brittany, my dear Chevara,
You have helped me sing, my song of freedom, when all I thought I had, were sad, sad songs. Thank you Brother Bob Marley for that. I’ll take it from here.
On August 26th of last year, I pulled up to a federal prison camp to surrender myself, or self-surrender. Before I got out of the car, I made a few phone calls, one to Chevara. Her gift to me as I relinquished my right to be free was the opportunity to use my voice. She encouraged, damn near insisted, that I write her letters so that my story could be heard. I embraced that present and the harder I squeezed, the more it oozed self-reflection, love and opportunity.
At times reflecting on myself looked a lot like my lack of acceptance of another inmate. Sometimes it sounded like the voice of a Baltimore drug dealer speaking with a tongue laced with venom. “Who the fuck are you Claudia?!” Who was I? Who am I? I didn’t know, but I did remember Chevara’s gift. I ran to get to my pen and my notebook and began to write.
I had several mis-starts. “Hey Girl!” No, that sounds like we’re teenagers. “What’s good Che?” Nah, I don’t call her that. It sounds kinda fake. Finally, I settle on, “Hey babe. I’m here doing well, and I think I’m losing my mind.” I go on and on from there, giving examples of the disappearance of my intellect. Other ramblings of other things and ending with the conclusions I had come up with since the commencement of that correspondence. All ways and at all times she was a vessel of acceptance. She accepted my letters from the Postman. She accepted my reflection as the work I had to do for myself. She replied with a simple, short, intense email. “I’ve received your letter. Your penmanship is beautiful. I cried as I read it. I love you.”
With so much time in isolation all I could do was take another look into my mental mirror, but this time with my friend’s words as my rose colored lenses. That mirror slowly began to show me an image I had been missing since I was a very young child. All this time I had been wearing the dollar store shades which caused my eyes to deteriorate and my ability to see my beautiful self began to fade. The words of my mother, “You are an evil child,” played in my head so many times before that email. I never questioned her because her tone was low and intentional. Anyway, mommy said it, so it must be true.
Loving, caring Claudia made her final exit when her daddy left. In a pain-filled tantrum, Minnie Lou Clodfelter Shivers looked her directly in her eyes and spoke matter-of-factly. “I only had you to keep your dad and you couldn’t even do that.” With that, the Daughter of Innocence was transformed into the Mother of Self-Destruction and now sat in isolation in West Virginia.
Remembering those words, I again got out my pen, my notebook, and wrote an urgent message to Chevara. “Hey babe. I am here, doing well. I am just afraid that if I love gang affiliated Angie you all won’t love me when I get back.” She emailed yet another volcanic response, “I love you beautiful spirit.” The email was hot. It burned my useless, protective layer of self-doubt to ash and produced fertile soil. My love was able to grow.
On July 7th of this year, I went to my cube and regifted Chevara’s gift to me. I got out my pen and my notebook and scribed a note to my Bunkie and Kelsie, my two PBF’s (Prison Best Friends). “As long as I can speak, you will always have a voice.”
As friends do, all of mine kept their promises. They welcomed me home on July 8th with enthusiastic caution. They checked on me and brought me the resources I needed. Chevara brought Brittany. Brittany told me I looked like Rakim and handed me a microphone. Now I am a microphone fiend. You can witness my addiction to sharing my story for the healing of others and using my voice to bring attention to issues that make us feel ashamed, by going to The Winters Group website and watching the podcast on “The Inclusion Solution”. My sisters honored me by helping me sing my song of freedom, my redemption song, because that’s all I ever had.