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402446 was a six-digit number that became my new identification. As a grabbed my identification badge, I glanced at my picture, name, birth date, and this new number which was what the State of Connecticut Department of Corrections labeled me as. I felt a tear slide down my cheek as I followed the Correction Officer’s orders. He led about 8 of us to a building where we would be housed temporarily. I got my assigned cell and as I heard the door slam and lock behind me, reality finally hit me that I was now a prisoner; Inmate 402446 to be exact.
I have always heard the phrase, “addiction only leads to jail, institutions, and death” and I had believed that none of that would happen to me. Most addicts typically experience institutions first, but I had the unfortunate case of skipping that step and going directly to jail, never collecting $200. I remember the first night at York Correctional Institution located in Niantic, Connecticut. I remember having no pillow, an uncomfortable and dirty uniform, and a cot to sleep on that was no thicker than an average household door. It laid on top of a metal framed bunk bed. I laid down on the cot, looked up at the ceiling that was inches away, and wondered how I ended up here. I knew the answer to that, but I couldn’t believe that it had actually happened to me. I thought about my mother and how much I missed her. I thought about all the people who tried to warn me that I had ignored and argued with. I felt the hard metal frame of the bed under my back and the cold air that filled the room. I smelt mold and toilet water and heard sounds of women crying. I had to accept that this was reality, that I was now a convicted felon inmate, and that this was going to be my new habitat for the next 18 months. It was not home and I was far away from my real home.
Throughout the months I was an inmate, I moved from different housing sections of the prison. It was divided into two major sections; High Security and Low Security. I got to experience half of my time in High Security and the other half in Low Security. Because of being released on parole, I served a total of 8 months. Within the first few weeks of being in prison, I didn’t want to let the misery and dark vibe of the place engulf me.
I started my happiness mission by turning my life over to a power greater than myself, which I call God. I then started to find things to be grateful about. One thing that I was grateful for was the strong women I had met in prison. Society believes that inmates are “bad people” and that only “bad people” go to jail. I didn’t find any. I found hurt women who gotten lost along their path of life. I grew compassion and empathy for these women. A lot of them had survived trauma that I couldn’t imagine experiencing. Many were mothers who missed their children. Many made a mistake and had just gotten caught for it. One thing that a woman told me to be grateful about was that I was sober. When she said that I felt as if I got knocked over by a roaring wave in the sea.
Be grateful to be sober?! That had not even crossed my mind. I was in so deep of a survival mode that I had forgotten that I was sober. I hadn’t been sober in 6 years. At this point in time I was housed in a building that had a program in it for any inmate that was charged with a drug or alcohol related crime. In this building was where I first discovered recovery and sobriety. As I actively participated in this program and built relationships with staff and residents, I started to love myself again. I hadn’t given myself any care in years. I abused myself and allowed other people and drugs to abuse and control me, too. For the first time in a long time, I felt free from the chains of addiction. I didn’t have a key to my cell to release me, but I held the key to an access of freedom that I never believed I would have.
Prison made me free from my addiction. The women there had a huge part in helping make that happen. Sitting in a cell with barely any room to walk or stretch made me feel as if I was a hostage. However, living on the other side of the prison walls in the “free world” as an active addict, had more power and control over me than prison. My real smile started to slowly form. My body gained the weight that it desperately needed. My family supported and uplifted me while I was incarcerated, which I was blessed to have had. I laughed a real laugh that was lost for years. I heard life stories and was taught valuable lessons by the story tellers. I was warned about things and this time I actually listened. These so-called “bad people” had hearts of gold and sincerity in their concerns for my future and my well-being.
Just because you may be chained, doesn’t mean that you don’t hold the key to the lock of a different freedom. As I laid my head down to sleep at night, I would listen to the jingling of the keys on the Correction Officer’s waist as they walked up and down the hallways. They may have held the key to my freedom as a prisoner, but I had the key to the freedom of my addiction.
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