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It was July 2014 and I was being transferred into a new building to be housed in. I was put in the back of a van and driven through the York Correctional Institution’s back roads. This was the first time I was able to see the entire campus and was able to see the difference between the high security and low security sections. I was leaving high security and entering into low security which I was very happy about. Rumor had it that I was able to have my cell door open and I was able to roam around the building for many more hours of the day. Another bonus rumor: I was able to go outside every day.
I arrived at the new building I was to call home and the Correctional Officer looked at me and said, “well, looks like they put you in the building with the drug addicts. So that must mean you are here for drugs and alcohol huh?” I shook my head and walked up a few steps to the brick building. After being let into the building, my senses were igniting. I heard a sound that gave me a sense of comfort immediately; laughter. True, genuine laughter. I saw that the wall had painted letters on it, spelling out, “God is good, all the time”
My heart felt an easiness the second I read that. I knew with every bit of my heart that God was right there with me.
After settling in and meeting the other women, I got the scoop of what this building was all about. It was a program building for women that were incarcerated because of a substance related crime. AKA DUI’s, DWI’s, Possession, Sale, etc. There was structure, schedules, mentors, “friends”, counselors, recovery meetings, and group therapy. This was my first taste of what rehabilitation would be like.
On weekday mornings, the entire building met in a room and we had “morning meeting” which consisted of a meditation, sobriety anniversary recognition’s, announcements, etc. In order to get the room settled and prepared for morning meditation; a counselor would take hold of a black rope string that had two bells on each end and ding them together to make a “calm ringing bell” sound. It would get our attention and when meditation was over, they would ding it again. If we got too rowdy, they would ding the bells together to bring the attention back to the subject.
For 6 months, I would listen to those bells. I hoped that I would never hear that specific bell noise or see their unique design ever again. Not because I didn’t enjoy the program, because I did, but because the constant feeling of being in captivity and confinement lingered over me, despite the good times that I did have in that building. Those bells reminded me of those feelings and all of the pain that came along with incarceration; to my family and to myself.
First semester of college, pursuing a degree in Drug and Alcohol Recovery Counseling, August 2017. I was so excited for my first day of classes. I hadn’t been to school in 7 years and I was happy to be in a place in my life where I had recovery, employment, and kicking The Monkey’s ass.
As the classroom fills and the professor arrives, I was chatting with the people around me awaiting for class to begin.
And then I heard it.
The. Bells. Were. Back.
PTSD IMMEDIATELY. HEART RATE ELEVATED, TREMBLING STARTED.
You have GOT to be kidding me. These damn bells were back in my life.
And again I heard, DIIIIING.
It was THE EXACT bells, design and all, that was used at YCI.
Immediately I had a flashback of sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs with the prison uniform of a maroon tshirt and baggy jeans. I could see the sea of women with maroon shirts on and I could hear the keys clanging as the CO’s walked by.
Breathe, Ally. Breathe.
It was a little humorous to hear my classmates enjoy the method of the professor getting our attention and to settle us down. But for me, it wasn’t pleasant.
I’ve had this professor for 4 classes so far and she uses them in each class. Each of her classes are 3 hours long. Dinging, dinging, and more dinging.
As I got to know the professor, I gained an admiration for her and her professional experience. She told the class that she does work at YCI and I immediately wished that I had known her while I was there; she would’ve been a tremendous help for me during that time.
So, during a break, I decided while few of my classmates were in the room, I was going to face my fear of the bells. I picked up the string and banged the bells together. My heart filled with gratitude and my eyes filled with tears. I left the room and went into the restroom to collect myself.
I immediately found a place to lower my head and close my eyes to pray. I thanked God that I was able to bang these bells again, in a completely different mindset and situation in my life. Three years ago I had to bang these bells as in inmate, feeling trapped, ashamed, and discouraged. Now, I was able to bang them and listen to them as a full time college student, feeling brave, empowered, free, and safe. I used this as a moment to reflect and embrace humility. It was a moment that I was able to relieve the anxiety that came with the noise of the bells. Although it still brings me back to YCI sometimes, I’m now able to bear the banging of the bells.
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