When I was younger, I thought it would be a great idea to go to church camp. I was so excited. I was there about 2 days if that and I started to feel really sick. I was depressed and I just wanted to throw up. I knew the Pastor from our church was coming in a day or so and I had it all planned in my head that I was hitching a ride home with him. Well that never happened! I was forced to stay. Thinking back on this experience as an adult I can understand why I was so home sick. This camp wasn’t fun at all! They ran it like a boot camp. I remember having to be up by 6 am. They literally woke up us with a bugle. Once you were awake (or barely awake) they expected you to then run. I think it was a pretty decent run if memory serves me correctly. This was all before eating breakfast. Once breakfast was served, we spent most of the day then in some sort of Bible class or another. There was some game time later in the day, because I remember playing “capture the flag” for the first time. The counselors were super strict. I remember not having fun at all,, and growing up I loved vacation Bible school. I think in my mind that this would be an extension of that, and it wasn’t! I never asked to go to another camp again after that. I couldn’t wait to go HOME! I actually remember thinking to myself one time during my incarceration about the Bible camp and how here I was so far away from home. No one was able to visit because of Covid, and I was being woke up at 6 am for a required count. No bugle, just the officer on duty yelling “COUNT, lights on, feet on the floor, standing count!”. Sometimes you didn’t hear them call it, and you were then startled out of your sleep with your roommates and the officers yelling your name. They just needed to make sure you were still alive and breathing. I handled this entire situation of being away from home better than I thought that I would. Even as an adult, I didn’t like being far from home. If I did go away, it was with family. One day, it just hit me though. I had been through A LOT up to this point. The constant moving and transfers took its toll. I remember the one night at SCI Phoenix in the room where the 4 of us were quarantined. I was sitting at the table with my friend Jodie, and I just started crying. I apologized to her and told her, “I just want to go home! I miss my family so much!”. I told her that I was tired of being strong and putting on a brave face for everyone. Phoenix was supposed to be the end of the road. All of us were so honored to be asked by the Head of the DOC in the Central Office to come to this high honor unit. We were finally being recognized for being model inmates that posed no risk to anyone. We were less than 2 hours from home and able to make phone calls whenever we wanted and as often as we wanted. We were soon to be able to have unlimited contact visits. We were also told by the Captain and Major that we were pretty much guaranteed parole by being chosen to go there. When we caught covid and things came to a halt our world imploded. It took every bit of wind out of our sails. I supposed some people wouldn’t agree with having an honor unit and giving privledges to inmates like this. I beg to differ! Not because I was a recipient of those benefits, but because I know first-hand why it’s so important. Prime example is my friend Jodie. After we returned from all of this mess and settleed back at Cambridge, she came up for parole before I did. She never ever got in trouble, was part of this honor program, did everything she was supposed to do and then some. She goes to see the board, a few days later she gets told that she got a 9-month hit. (a hit is basically saying you can’t see the board again for another 9 months from the day when you first saw them). This wasn’t just upsetting to her, but it was upsetting to the staff as well. For the most part a lot of the staff and counselors really do care. (There are some that are there for a check, but some do care). The one counselor was so upset about it, she went home and was telling her family about it. You just get to the point where you see people who get in trouble and act stupid while there that get paroled right away. You start to wonder if being a goody 2 shoes is really worth it. The answer is yes, in the long run it is. You just start to feel defeated though when things like this happen. Unfortunately for my friend, it happened a second time right before I left to come home. They say everyone’s case is different and you can’t compare yours to theirs. I just still feel so awful for her. The staff continues to do things to increase her changes of being approved. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the entire justice system in the US and Pennsylvania. I see so many people up in arms about President Biden wanting to relieve student loans and yet no one bats an eye at paying tons and tons of tax money to support mass incarceration. Other countries are even some states within the US are finally realizing that mass incarceration doesn’t help. Should I have been punished for what happened? Yes! However, there was many other ways that I and other folks like me could have paid my debt to society. I now have become a burden of society because I’m currently without a job. Finding a job after post incarceration isn’t easy. I have many transferred skills that I should easily be able to find employment. The problem is, everyone wants to do a background check. Why? if I’m only working in an office processing paperwork and you’re going to put me on a 30, 60, 90-day probationary period anyway-why does my background then matter? Pennsylvania is an at will employment state, therefore you can let me go at any time. Especially before the probation period is over. The other problem is that there is really NO vocational opportunities while in prison. Prison is essentially a warehouse for people. Your tax dollars is paying for people who are willing to take a vocational class, to be able to leave there a start a job immediately however the opportunity isn’t there. Instead, it’s easier to pay inmates $.19/hr to push a broom or take out trash than to teach them something worthwhile. There are programs like cosmo, eye class lens making and plumbing that you can do. Yet my roommate did the lens class, came home and was told they would never hire her because of her record. it seems to me; they should partner with LensCrafters or someplace like them to offer employment post incarceration to inmates that pass the exam and become licensed to do this. If you’re an inmate and you took the initiative to go to the classes and take the exam, I think you’re pretty serious about wanting to be employed. I know some of you won’t agree with me and that’s ok. We’re all entitled to our own opinions and that’s what makes America great. I also think that having some of these healthy conversations with people other than law makers that never stepped foot in a prison could be helpful. People shouldn’t be sitting in prisons, being transferred and moved 14 plus times while paying officers 2 times their hourly wage to drive them around. People make mistakes, dumb ones. Bad things happen to good people and accidents happen. We are all one mistake away from something like this happening to you or someone you love. Why is America the home of the free and yet we are the highest in incarceration populations? I am not the only one who missed their family while there. Covid didn’t make it any better. I went almost my entire time without physically seeing my loved ones. I did have video visits with them but it’s not the same. I spent most of that time in lock down, only being allowed out during assigned times for phone calls and showers. There wasn’t any day room or yard anymore. There weren’t any walks to the chow hall or to appointments. Everything during covid was brought to us. Phoenix was the first taste of freedom and “fun”. When I finally sat down and thought about it, I think that’s why I finally started to cry.