Within us is a passion to maximize each moment, leading to a better tomorrow. Within us is the recognition that every person’s life has value.
by Jessica Zarling, #LwC2019
November 8, 2019
I have just finished a soon-to-be published workbook designed to help people with their relationship with the Lord, with their neighbors and with themselves. It’s titled, “Firm Foundation,” and it was inspired by the women I knew when I was incarcerated. With women, relationships are so vital. Oftentimes women end up in prison because they don’t have the healthy relationships that give them the freedom to become who they were intended to be, and to experience the love they haven’t experienced before. Many women have experienced trauma that keeps them silent and unable to reach out to the healthier individuals they may have around them. I want them to recognize that because you’ve been a victim at one point in your life, you don’t have to continue to be one throughout your life.
Once my book is published I plan on using it in groups of women in prison and also in other venues, like treatment centers and transitional living spaces. I have always wanted to do this kind of work. I’ve always had compassion for people experiencing hardships and believed that people who got in trouble with the law were crying for help in an indirect way. Halfway through my nine year incarceration, as I took on the role of an alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) tutor, I prayed God would allow me to advocate for them upon my release. But in actuality my advocacy began when I was inside due to the hazardous living conditions we were being subjected to.
There were a lot of problems at the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center in Wisconsin. We had black mold, one sink for forty women, collapsing ceilings, and mattresses that were so old and thin you could feel the metal underneath. I wrote a letter to State Senator Lena Taylor and she did work on improving the conditions in the prison. When I left prison, I prayed that God would use me to be a voice for the women still in there. Today I advocate for the importance of looking at peoples’ lives holistically and providing them the most rehabilitative alternatives rather than locking them in cages like animals.
I have written a poem that was inspired by my Leading with Conviction family that sums up my feelings about the work that we do:
Within us is a resolve to rise above all oppression
Within us is the courage to not be defined by our past
Within us is a voice that refuses to be silent
Within us is the reality, time is the most valuable currency
Within us is a passion to maximize each moment, leading to a better tomorrow
Within us is the recognition that every person’s life has value
Within us is the truth that true value is not determined by the color of one’s skin
But by the heart that wants each and every person to win.
JLUSA changed everything for me. I finally felt I was home in a community of individuals who understood, who didn’t judge and who believed there was no limit to my success. They are living proof of building not only successful lives but successful communities all across the nation.