Two years ago today I was released from Perryville Women’s prison in Goodyear, AZ. It was a beautiful March day as it so often is in this part of the world. I was up at 4 o’clock in the morning.. The release process included a lot of waiting, but finally about 10 o’clock the huge chain link gates slid open and I was able to walk out, free, into the welcoming arms of my friend Carolyn.
I was starving and she took me appropriately to Paradise for my first meal. The choices overwhelmed me, but I knew whatever I had must include tomatoes. I had missed them so much in seven years. So I ordered a huge, lovely salad and welcomed glass of ice water. The girl behind the counter handed me an empty glass. Where was my water? I’d been gone a long time and now discovered that there was a buffet of drink choices to my left that included tea, soft drinks, lemonade and coffee. But where was the water? My friend pointed to a small black button on the drink buffet that said, in tiny letters, Water. So I pushed it and was horrified to get lemonade. Oh, my gosh! Were they now going to charge me for that? Maybe they would send me back to Perryville. As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. I was supposed to pull, not push. Obviously I had a lot to learn.
And learn I have. It has been an amazing, full and fulfilling time. Today I was the guest speaker at the Phoenix Rotary 100 to about 200 guests. Someone asked me how I survived prison. Faith, focus and purpose. Oh, and a sense of humor helps, although some days I cried enough to float the place away. Why it’s still there, I do not know.
The Rotarians were lovely and welcoming. It was a perfect way to celebrate this anniversary, this strange anniversary of a journey that gave me my purpose and passion.
Here are some numbers I shared with the Rotarians to think about. MA, WA, and AZ all have about 6.5 million people, give or take a few hundred thousand. MA has a prison pollution of 11,000. WA has a prison population of 17,000. AZ has a prison population of 40,000. (According ADOC, 6,000 are whom they call “criminal aliens.”) We release 20,000 a year and that sounds really good, but here’s the bad news: we intake 22,000 so the numbers keep rising. Currently the corrections budget is just under 0ne Billion Dollars. Yes, One Billion Dollars.
Do we have that much more crime? Not really. We just send more people to prison for longer sentences because we are Tough on Crime. The alternative seems to be Soft on Crime. I propose there is a third choice, Smart on Crime. Check out what conservative politicians are saying nationally about this idea at www.rightoncrime.com. Former legislators who started as Tough on Crime are now looking at smarter alternatives and becoming Smart on Crime.
That’s my passion and that’s what I am celebrating this year. I’m also celebrating new friendships with amazing people in my life that thrill me with their loving and generous spirits. Thank you all. I send all my love and blessings.
Think about your last two years. Have you found a passion and purpose that you are celebrating? I promise, it makes life worth living. I’d love to hear what yours is….