My 10-year-old son and I were recently chit-chatting about something he wants to do when I “get out of prison.” Knowing how hard it is for him to say that phrase, I suggested we think of I as a Mission Trip instead of prison. He hadn’t heard the term before, but I sensed his eagerness to discover something that felt less scary and more useful. I explained that it often refers to people volunteering in another country, often to build a church, homes or teach others about God. It also describes the meaningful work of volunteers, who go to other places within our country to help with the needs of that community. But, realistically, it’s much broader. It recently occurred to me that with how I intend to use my time in prison, I’m truly going on a Mission Trip.
Although I’m not going to another country, I’m entering a completely unfamiliar environment with a culture that’s foreign to me. From a judicial perspective, I’m going to prison as punishment; however, I view prison with a greater purpose. Although I’m forced to go there, I’m planning to use my time in meaningful ways.
In the early stages of my criminal case, I was in deep despair and believed my life was over. It was all surreal and felt like I was living in a virtual reality. This couldn’t possibly be me, Melinda, a woman who worked so hard to prove to the world that she was worthy. It was absolutely unfathomable that prison would ever be a place I’d live. Initially, I sobbed every day, almost nonstop. For the first time in my life, I spent more time on the floor pleading for God’s help than on my feet moving in any direction. Nonfinite grief was debilitating as I watched my life and that future that I imagined dissolve, almost instantaneously.
When I reflect on how I initially handled the news that prison was the anticipated outcome, I spent quite a long time cycling between sadness, anger, guilt, regret, depression, and denial. Like apps running in the background on my phone, all were continuously present. Seeking some type of clear vision for what my new life would look like, I struggled to see anything good that could result from this tragedy. That was until two years after my arrest when I began to discover some silver lining. My mindset began the shift from hopeless defeat to unveiling good things that have come from this. God’s reasoning in all of this has become clearer. By April of this year, after spending the past year insisting that my punishment would be home confinement, not prison, my support system’s concern about my emphatic repudiation grew. It wasn’t an idea I was willing to lend credence to. I only wanted to manifest what I wanted, and the prison was not it. I focused my energy on the word Freedom.
As my sentencing date grew closer, I began utilizing resources that I’d previously declined. Through those, it became clear that barring a miracle, I was going to prison. The question was, for how long? I’ll never forget a call I had with Justin Paperny. He’s skilled at being honest and direct with compassion in his voice. He’s a straight shooter. As much as it hurt to hear what he said that phone call put me on a different path. A path of complete ownership void of excuses and acceptance that I WAS going to prison.
Today, barely more than three months later, I’ve found meaning and purpose again. I was sentenced on May 24th and was despondent as the prosecution painted a picture of someone I am not. It was time to face the piper and no matter what hope I held onto; I was finally going to have a concrete answer. Having an answer meant that after 40 months of living in limbo, I would have a bit of closure and so would dozens of other people. I texted Michael Santos “18 months” and he responded with something along the lines of congratulations. What? Why would he congratulate me for receiving a prison sentence? Considering the prosecution was seeking 27 months, Michael considered that a win. After a few days, I began to see it that way too. Michael and I had previously discussed the opportunity for me to be an Ambassador for Earning Freedom programs and lessons on Preparing for Success After Prison. With that, I became more optimistic about having purpose while inside. That feeling has grown into believing that I’m going on a mission trip. A mission to help others, while working on myself. I’ve connected with others in prison through family members and am looking forward to meeting their LO when I arrive.
Hopefully, they’ll help me learn the ins and outs, as well as the cultural dynamics that exist in that community. I hope to inspire and help dozens of women begin to plan for their future. Although my hope is to help dozens, if one person creates a path to success and finds hope, then I’ve made a positive difference. For me, that’s what life is about.
To summarize, my Mission Trip is indeed to spread the word and build. I’m not building an entire church, but I certainly intend to authentically share my gratitude for God. He has been my strength. He’s carried me when I can’t walk and he’s been at my side during this journey. I can’t cite scripture, but I believe I can make an impact without that skill. I can testify to what he’s done in my life and how my ignorance, selfish desires, and impatience eclipsed my desire to follow God’s lead. Additionally, I’m on a mission to empower women and provide them with knowledge and resources to create a brighter future. By focusing on the future that awaits them outside prison walls; and the future they have the power to create, I hope they will maximize their time behind bars. Finally, I’m on a mission for personal growth and improvement. I want to listen and learn. I seek knowledge and enlightenment. I recognize that it may sound crazy to think a place full of such darkness and negativity could provide any type of enlightenment; however, the darkest times can be truly cathartic.
“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.”
― Doe Zantamata