Take a Chance

by Sandra Colston

I arrived at the Ohio Reformatory for Women correctional facility in Marysville on November 13, 1992. I arrived as a new inmate. The whole process of being admitted to prison, which was a humiliating thing to endure, took about five hours. Then, upon initial incarceration, there was a two-week waiting period before I was “cleared” to go out into the general population.

In prison, and certainly at Marysville, an inmate isclassified as a maximum, medium, or minimum-security status, all depending upon many factors. I was classified as a medium-status inmate. I was soon given a job at the central food service as a dishwasher. I started thinking about how I was going to do this time and not go crazy.

I decided that I would take a chance, set a goal, and try to obtain my GED. I took several classes. In 1993 I passed the GED tests and achieved my first goal.

I proceeded to check into other areas of inmate life I could accomplish in a positive way that would not allow me to get caught up in trouble. I had always been interested in gardening and growing plants, so since there was a program offered to learn about these things, I decided to enroll in a horticultural class. I eventually completed the course and was awarded a certificate of completion.

The first two years seemed to go by quickly. However, there were many more that needed to be completed. I began to feel less hopeless. I took the time to check into available jobs and if there was any chance of advancing into some job that would be rewarding as well as satisfying. I did find a job after all. I started this job making twenty-one cents an hour. It didn’t seem like much but it was one of the better-paying jobs in the prison.

I worked for Ohio Prison Industries (O.P.I.) and learned to sew work gloves that the inmates used in their various jobs. I worked at this job until 1995, and then I was able to enroll in Urbana College through its prison-facilitated degree program. I was so excited and wondered what would happen next. I had hope.

My life was in the hands of God, and I knew that in his hands I was safe. I lived in a single room for about three years. This was in “merit” housing. I also got the opportunity to train a puppy which I took everywhere – even to college class. (The dogs were being trained to be guide dogs for blind persons.) This was one of my greatest experiences during my incarceration.

During those years, I also attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and joined a group dedicated to discussing domestic violence. I learned to knit and crochet and made many afghans during those months. I entered a knitted, black, red, and white blanket into a craft show and received a second place ribbon. While with Ohio Prison Industries, as previously noted, I also worked on the “flag line,” in which I was a responsible member of the “field” part of the line that placed stars on the blue part of a flag.

Taking classes in prison through Urbana College was a dream that came true at that time.  I felt as though anything was possible. I took many different classes, but my major was psychology with a minor concentration in social services. I really enjoyed my class and the teachers were the greatest. Many of my teachers wrote letters of support to the parole board on my behalf. The encouragement that I received from my teachers and other staff members helped me see that dreams can be achieved amid incarceration and that I could do anything I set my mind to do.

I received my Associate Degree from Urbana in 1997. I participated in Jaycee sports and played softball. I participated in a Kairos (spiritual-oriented) retreat, which was a time for women inmates to get together with women on the outside that took valuable personal time to be with us. We sang and praised the Lord for our blessings. I enjoyed being a part of this Kairos, four-day weekend, in which, in our prayer groups, we could talk about anything going on in our lives. I learned how to handle certain situations. Several groups helped me resolve some issues I was having inside.

After receiving my degree, I began thinking about a next goal, about what I could do next. I soon became involved in a new program of data entry started by O.P.I.  I did not even now how to type, but I learned very quickly. I gradually learned to type at a decent speed. I worked at this program quite a while and eventually became a floor trainer. I trained new employees on each data entry job. I was responsible for demonstrating to employees what was expected of them, and I also made sure each employee understood the importance of her typing accuracy and speed. Once again, I felt so much better about myself and my time at Marysville. I began to realize that I truly could do just about anything of a positive nature if I so chose.

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