I asked Cheryl Armstrong (her story is here) what kind of life she imagined for herself, if she were to be released from prison. This is what she said:
The kind of life outside I picture myself living & things I’ve grown to know…
When I get out of prison, I picture myself living a simple but productive life. I want to end up building a career for myself that corresponds with my life experience and educational background. I would like to help teach others by sharing the mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve been through (and put others through) as a result of them. I am going to get a sociology degree because I believe I’ll be able to put it to use after my release. If I can’t make a career this way, I still plan to volunteer my time to organizations who are trying to help others by encouraging positive change in our justice system and rehabilitation for our troubled kids – NOT eternal damnation in an adult prison.
I’d like to get out and live on my own. My main priority besides being successful when I get out is to simply spend time with my family. My parents are getting older and I want to be there for them in any way I can – especially after all they have done to support me while I’ve been incarcerated.
I really want to be a productive citizen who goes to work all week but still finds time to enjoy all the little things that make life so precious – like going for a walk at night or just sitting outside, listening to the birds and enjoying fresh air. I don’t need lots of material possessions. I will live appreciating every moment of life. I’ve spent nearly half of my life in prison and it has taught me many valuable lessons about life and what’s truly important.
I can’t adequately describe how different my mind operates now compared to when I was 16 years old. When I was a kid, I lived in the moment. I never considered how my actions were affecting other people, my future, or even myself in that moment. I just didn’t think things through. I wasn’t a heavy drug user, but I did do a lot of experimenting and I think that often clouded my judgment.
I didn’t care about anything when I was 16 and I felt like I had to carry around this bad attitude to get respect from people. Looking back I see how completely warped and unhealthy that perspective was. During my first years in prison I carried this same attitude. As I got older, I started to realize that people don’t truly respect someone who has a negative attitude. Even more importantly, I realized I didn’t respect my own ways of thinking.
I grew tired of being negative and so easily offended by everything and a desire for something better grew in my heart. I came to realize that everything is not black and white and that being flexible and going with the flow is an asset, not a weakness. I learned about the value of life and that when you do something hurtful to someone, it changes people and can stay with them forever. I’ve learned to consider the long term consequences FIRST, whereas before, when I was a teenager, I never considered them at all. I’ve become more considerate and have learned not to sweat the small stuff.
The most powerful life lesson I have learned and am now just grasping and exercising in my life is the power of forgiveness. I used to hold onto every unfortunate incident that occurred in my life and could always find a way to blame someone else for it. As I got older, I realized that never letting go hurt me a lot more than the person (or situation) I was unforgiving toward. Whether I am in prison or free I will strive to be compassionate and forgiving towards everyone and remind myself that life is too short to be angry and in a negative state of mind. I’ve grown to know that life is what we make it and when something “bad” happens, you can always learn from it. Learning to change your perspective is truly empowering.