Common Sense

by Terrie Sramek

Growing up, I was taught that graduating from high school was very important in terms of getting a good paying job. When I expressed my interest in furthering my education through college, my dad’s response was, “You don’t need book sense. You need some common sense to succeed in life.”

At 17-years old, with my high school diploma and common sense under my belt, I was off to Washington D.C. to work for the F.B.I. It had been my typing and shorthand skills that got me the job. Over the next 18 years, I received on-the-job training through the various office manager positions I held. I even volunteered my skills to become the business manager to a state scholarship pageant (a preliminary pageant to the Miss America pageant).

Then my life drastically changed, and I was arrested. In jail, the CO’s and staff mocked me, often calling me the beauty queen and making remarks about how I wasn’t going to be living like a beauty queen in jail, and that the princess was going to be sleeping on the floor just like the others.

Actually, I was very depressed and grieving because I had taken the life of a person I loved. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I closed myself off and tried to blend in and not show that I was a smart, successful woman. My employment skills proved to be an asset to me after I arrived in prison to begin a 15-to-life sentence.

After two weeks in admissions and being classified to “close” status, I was sent to interview for a clerk position in the administration building for the Social Security Administration. They needed a fast typist. I was hired on the spot.

For the next 11 years, I always had one of the best clerk positions (by prison standards) based on my excellent skills. I was able to do the jobs that paid staff was doing. I could do many things better and had far superior skills than paid staff. As time passed, technology advanced and was brought into the institution. Computers took over and the clerks’ positions were phased out as security issues became tighter. There were no more clerk positions for inmates, and we certainly couldn’t do the work we had been doing. Paid staff finally had to start doing their jobs.

I needed to focus on bettering my skills to keep up with the current technology. Education was the answer. I had already checked out the college education available when I got to prison, but because of my time, I could not go to school until I was five years from my parole board review. I, instead, learned a new trade by attending cosmetology school. After that, I eagerly awaited my turn to go to college. There were two schools offering a two-year Associate degree. By the time I was within the five-year, parole board mark, rehabilitation in the prison system was on the down side and prison became a place for correction. There were fewer vocational programs and one college offered a one-year certificate. The computer classes didn’t offer updated programs.

Today, I await whatever programming and groups are available. I crave the knowledge of the new technology. I can read about the new gadgets, but cannot get any hands-on experience in prison.

Because of this, I fear being released at times. The distorted thoughts run rampant through my brain. If I make my next parole in 2011, who is going to hire a 56-year old woman who has skills from the fossil age? How can I be a productive citizen to society if I don’t have the updated skills to get a job? Who’s going to hire someone knocking on the doors of Social Security? They can’t call it age discrimination, but perhaps it happens all the time. These basic, self-imposed limitations have me in prison in my mind.

However, through the program, The Psychology of Incarceration, I have been able to identify and label those self-imposed limitations and distorted thoughts. I realize that if I do not heal behind these bars, I will leave more incarcerated than before.

I am fortunate as I have some time in which I can continue to work on myself, utilizing the information and tools I got from the class.

But, come 2011, there is a world waiting out there for me. A world waiting to challenge me. Bring it on, because I know I can do it.

With my book sense and common sense working together, I can find and maintain the right balance in my life. The healthier I am, the more I can help others.

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