My Name is

Hi, my name is Angelena.

I was born on March 13, 1972. The top hit song of the year was ‘Heart of Gold’ by Neil Young.  I was born to a seamstress and a merchant seaman. My mother from Birmingham, Alabama, and my dad from Kingston, Jamaica. Me, I was born in the Bronx. I do not think my parents were ready to have children. My mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; my father spent a great deal of time away from us. During those years with my parents, I felt pretty abandoned and neglected--but never as much as when I was removed from my parents and placed in foster care. It was there that I would come face to face with the devil. It would be in the system that was supposed to protect me that I would suffer sexual and physical violence.  

Before prison, I found myself addicted to drugs, men and the chaos of violence. I was angry, confused, detached and violent.  I had endured all kinds of abuse: sexual, physical, and emotional. All of it from unlikely sources. People I thought cared about me, and those whom I trusted.  I was broken in every aspect of the word. I felt like an outcast because I did not fit in anywhere. I was filled with fear, insecurity and it caused me to withdraw. I was consumed with violence, and so this is how I became.  As time went on, I would find myself in and out of prison. My charges would range from drug trafficking, forgery, aggravated assaults and more. As time progressed, and I got older, my criminal mind seemed to progress as well. My addiction had taken total control of me, and it was causing my life to spiral even the more. It really would be nice if I could say I learned from my stints in prison, but at the end of the day, the decision to change was up to me and me alone.  It was my fifth time in prison that I realized that I had to change.

I went to the LEAP orientation in prison and as I listened to Mahlia Lindquist, I was inspired, intrigued, and motivated by her speech. Even though I have my Cosmetology license and certification in Technology Support Services, it seemed to me that there could be something to be learned with this LEAP program. I had already begun changing my life. I just needed a greater foundation. I realized that I had already tried everything else- what could this hurt? I was so happy to get out of prison soon. However, there was still some uncertainty. I was still unsure. I STILL STRUGGLED WITH INSECURITY. UNCERTAINTY. FEAR. ANGER. QUESTIONS.

 Upon entering the LEAP in-prison program, I met the team that consisted of individuals that wanted and were committed to seeing us change. Going into class, I thought it would be easy, but little did I know how much I would learn. The classes were geared and designed to help us look at our past, present, and what our future could and would look like provided we put the work in. I learned new skills like:  Thinking 4 A Change, Substance abuse, Stress Management, Business and all kinds of tools targeted to help us succeed. I learned how to use techniques that helped me to cope, as well as grounding and journaling techniques that help to alleviate stress. 

When I got out of prison, LEAP had one of their own to come pick me up. I almost started crying when the woman from LEAP called me by my name and not my inmate number. After taking me to register at the sheriff's office, to get a cell phone, the bank and then lunch, the woman from LEAP finally brought me to my new home which was a safe place provided to me by the program. Everyone in the house gave me a big hug and asked about my day-it was the first time I was not treated like a prisoner in a long time. I have acquired LEAP roommates(sisters) that I can confide in and trust. But they are so much more than that. They are there to assist me with my thoughts, emotions, and decisions. They don’t make them for me.  LEAP gave me a job, a family, support and believed in me when I needed it most. There isn’t enough paper to write all that LEAP has done for me or can do for others behind me. LEAP has restored my dignity and given me the confidence to see myself as more than a felon and more than a victim. I am more than my past.

Today, I am living  at the LEAP house with my LEAP sisters and working at Dragonfly. I also have a set of big brothers and sisters; even godparents as I like to think of them to listen to me. Yes, I report to them, and inform them of my status and progress on tasks that are given to each of us to accomplish. I know I had a tough childhood, but I am strong and resilient.  I always have a smile on my face and love to dance along with the music at work. I am a hardworker and that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I am Angelena, and I wear my name proudly because you are, I am, we all are human!