Report date
October 2022
Learning Log

As from my last reflections that I have shared with you all last quarter I’m learning what I naturally bring as leader and influencer in the space I’m working in with corrections and what muscles I’m having to develop to have an impact. I’m learning how to influence those that are not in the same place as I am by having uncomfortable conversations and listening to others’ views. I continue to be the person I feel within my soul and bring it out for others to see the power of transformation in a collective way. I recently I came across some who had experienced incarceration who expressed some distrust about my intentions. It threw me off and it was painful to hear that someone didn’t trust that my intentions were good, that because I had been a CO, that it made them skeptical about my commitment to their community. I can understand that it is kind of hard for some people to believe that a (former) corrections officer could really be interested in the well-being of the incarcerated. I work hard at earning the trust of the artists I work with, and I do everything I can to show them with my actions that I am committed to elevating them, their art, and their humanity. You see, for a long time I wore a corrections officer uniform and worked with a group of people that did security work, but who did not see the humanity of the people we served. I took this job 20 years ago as a way for me to provide for my family, but it wasn’t my identity as a person. It was very difficult to keep a balance in the way I did my work, while at the same time trying to influence change. Whether conscious or unconscious, what I was doing was making my colleagues feel uncomfortable because I was challenging what it meant to officer. I was ostracized by my co-workers, and I had to walk through all this all by myself, crossing this invisible line that is supposed to separate us from them. I believe as humans we all need space for transformation in our hearts and sometimes that could be a hard sell for many in this line of work.
I didn't know that I was leading when I was in uniform at Stillwater. I knew that I was trying to create a bridge and bring the community together. I just didn't feel that I was being supported in that space by my peers. I always thought and felt my peers wanted me to fail, but I knew that I was doing something bigger than me. I always talk about my spirituality, and my faith is guiding me in this work. I feel comfortable in my skin to know that I can help the incarcerated, educate the public, and to try to find healing and hope in this world.
As I sit back and look at my understanding of my developing leadership, I’m encouraged to continue to take steps toward my vison. As I move, I’ve been hitting areas that are sensitive, resistant to the process of change. I’m learning how I can create dialogue in this space with the incarcerated and the staff.
I truly believe that the people who come into this work as corrections officers don’t know the full understanding of the positive impact, they could be having on the people they serve in their recovery and re-entry into our community. I don’t think it’s their fault. This is not what they are trained to do in the academy, so the system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. This is something that took years for me to unlearn, because I hadn’t gotten the proper tools to understand the purpose of the work. If it’s not being modeled by the department leaders and lead officers in the units, it’s only by accident that one might discover the real work. It took a long time for me to figure out that one can be an officer and be human centered at the same time. It’s not only in a controlled approach like how I was taught but rather through a restorative lens that helps people understand their personal power to change, to grow and to redefine their future. I think if the Department of Corrections should apply new ways to train their employees about the real work that could be happening, maybe the outlook of things would change moving forward.
As I reflect on when I first had the idea to open the application for Bush Fellowship and apply, to possibly become a Fellow, I see how I have grown, stretched, and matured in ways I never thought about. In my journey with my leadership, I am coming across a lot of formally incarcerated men that I’ve served in the past. I have been amazed with their reception in seeing them again in the free world has been overwhelming. To give a handshake or hug to another black man that was affected by incarceration and isolation in the same place I worked at and feel the joy of seeing their freedom and not letting go for a few minutes was an uplifting and emotional feeling that I can’t explain. To collaborate and brainstorm together was never a reality and now it’s coming to fruition. This work is important and needs attention so that we as humans learn how to help each other. As a society, we tend to focus on the bad things that have happened, and do not allow the space for redemption. We need to acknowledge the positive things that people are doing when they come out to bring positive change in our communities. We are complicated people who are quick to judge and that leads us to destroying our own humanity.
I’ve taken part in men’s support groups in the community and speak with people who are newly released and even seen some of them that I know and served in these places is overwhelming. To hear the struggles that people are going through finding work and housing and the struggle to feel like they belong is real. I hear how these people get rejected because of their criminal record and are not given opportunities to live and work and contribute to our community and it is discouraging. I’m encouraged to take new steps into my future and collaborate and create new friendships along the way. I’m thinking of new ways to create opportunities for this community of people by finding the resources that will take them to a new level. We must break down the walls of misconceptions that people who have a record are not worthy of fair chances in our society.
I was fortunate to collaborate with other non-profits and agencies to create a job fair for formally incarcerated people in our community and there I was able to speak with folks who were released days before this event and were able to access resources at the event to find work and feel that they are welcome back into our communities.
I’ve finally been able to enter back into the correctional walls to bring Art from the Inside to more prisons. When they see me, they express gratitude for what I’m doing for them and it’s all love and that is awesome. Engaging with their loved ones and friends and family members about the upcoming art exhibits and to see the excitement that this brings them brings hope that things could change! I believe that this Pandemic was a sign for a paradigm shift in the way we think and behave and look at ourselves. I work to take an inventory of myself every day and I know that God is placing me in spaces and places to do things I never knew I would be doing or could do!
This first year of learning and growing has given me a strong sense of empowerment and confidence I needed. Now I’m working to learn more about policy change through the University of Minnesota Humphrey Policy Fellowship. One more learning journey to understand how to influence policy change in this space. One more thing to tackle, one more thing to conquer, one more tool in my toolbox. I’m just getting warmed up for this next chapter.