When I was released from prison, I told everyone where I’d been. “Hi, I’m Sue Ellen Allen and I just got out of prison.” I got the most interesting looks, frozen smiles and raised eyebrows. Lots of speechless smiling and nodding. No one knew what to say and neither did I. What do you say to someone who’s just gotten out of prison? I had no idea.
One day in my third week of freedom, I was pumping gas at Circle K downtown. Money was tight and I was counting my pennies. A man off the street approached and asked if I had any spare change. Apologetically I said, “I just got out of prison and…” before I could finish, he threw up his hands, smiled broadly and said, “Lady, congratulations. Welcome home.”
The man on the street taught me what to say. He said what no one had said to me in three weeks. “ Welcome home.”
On Friday, October 1, my publisher, Nick Ligidakis of Inkwell Productions, held a book launch for me to introduce my new book, The Slumber Party from Hell, a true story of turning pain in to power. I was thrilled and humbled when over a hundred people, old and new friends, came to say “Welcome Home.”
The fabulous White House in Scottsdale is the perfect venue for a party. Owned by the lovely and brilliant Mary Lou Waldburger, her elegant club was just the right setting for the cross section of people I love. We had legislators, lawyers and activists, socialites and students, professors and speakers and other writers, entrepreneurs and ex-prisoners. One of my friends from CASS even made his way down on public transportation and I was very grateful. Just imagine, eighteen months ago I was in prison. This is a perfect example of never giving up. You have no idea where God will lead you.
Although the party was for me, my thrill was listening to my beloved friend Renée Morgan Brooks sing my favorite song from Wicked, “Because I Knew You.” If you have never heard Renée sing, please go to this link and listen to the BEST rendition of the Little Drummer Boy that you will EVER here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHEAtVMmuss&feature=related Right here, I have to confess that this is not my favorite Christmas song. Too much barumpapapuming for my taste. Except that Renée takes you into the stable and lets you feel what it was like that night so long ago. If you are not moved to tears, you must be related to Scrooge. Go ahead. Costco has the Christmas ornaments out. It must be time to hear a Christmas song.
Back to the party. To summarize, I felt like a movie star and princess rolled into one. It was a wonderful reward for surviving the long challenging journey through prison. The book is the visible manifestation of my dream to inspire a conversation about who and how we incarcerate and how much it is costing us in money, family, children and our very spirits. Besides that, all my proceeds go to pay restitution. For many reasons, I hope it sells zillions. I can’t repay that money any other way.
And what does a movie star/princesses do after such an event? She goes home and helps her husband take out the trash. Life has a way of keeping us balanced. After we took out the trash, we sat and thought about those we have left behind in prisons all over the world. If you know someone released from prison, welcome them home. With 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S., there are more and more opportunities. Arizona releases 20,000 inmates every year from a population of 40,000. Problem is, they intake 22,000 to replace them. Every one of them has a story and a hope for a better future. My message to them and anyone reading my book is never, never give up your hope. Anything is possible. Look at me.