Today’s question is difficult to answer. After being imprisoned, I was very depressed, very depressed, and I couldn’t even think of happiness. I have to be honest – I don’t think I should be there.
A common joke is that everyone in prison will tell you they are innocent, but I don’t think that’s true. Most people will admit to their crime and pay their time for it. If they really did not do what they were convicted of, they will continue to fight every step of the way through the court system and speak out about their fight at every opportunity.
I was sentenced twice to 15 years for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and manufacture a controlled substance after 12 marijuana plants were found in the closet of the house where I lived.
I was college educated, had a job, no criminal record, and had a recommendation from a parole officer that I was the perfect candidate for first-time probation. Unfortunately, a prosecutor in my county wanted to use me as an example.
The whole point of these messages is to explain that I am very hurt, frustrated and angry about my incarceration, and that I never wanted to be happy in prison. So, in addressing this blogging issue, I sent an email to a friend of mine who is currently serving 20 years in prison, and she has already served 10 years.
Her name is Mistie Vance, and I’m going to bring you some inside scoop on prison life that she shared with me this week. Which brings me to today’s blog post: Can You Be Happy in Prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- prison is not like a movie
- life will never be the same again
- Keeping yourself busy and active is key
prison is not like a movie
When a person thinks about their loved one being in prison, many scary mental images may come to mind thanks to movies and TV shows. For Mistie, before she went to jail, she had a lot of crazy ideas about what a prison really is: dark as a dungeon, dirty and noisy, a place where the sun shines, and happiness is just a thing that only happens before you wake up. Dreaming of nightmares again and again.
Thankfully, Misty’s prison experience far exceeded her expectations.
life will never be the same again
“I still remember my first day in the county jail, 10 years ago today,” Misty said. “Watching while sitting in a rubber room with a hole in the floor serving as a toilet and cameras hanging on the wall, wearing only thin paper uniforms and paper blankets to keep warm.”
She remembered the note slipped quietly under the door—the words on it meant the beginning of a new life and the end of an old one.
Charges: First-degree murder and armed criminal conduct. Security Deposit: $2,000,000.
It was an election year, and she was a 32-year-old woman with no friends or family and absolutely no money. In that moment, she said, the idea of seeing freedom again was almost as ludicrous as the idea of being happy again.
Saddest of all are her seven-year-old daughter and two-year-old son. Her only hope is the God she knew from childhood but never really knew. So she prayed.
“For a year and a half, I thoroughly enjoyed life in the county jail, a place where we never went out in the sun, and I loved it, a jail is all we have. Life is good,” Mistie said.
“Maybe it wasn’t what I had hoped for, and it was definitely not my plan, but I came to understand one of the greatest truths to learn in this life: life is what you make it.”
Keeping yourself busy and active is key
For 19 months, Mistie prayed, conducted hundreds of Bible studies, attended every religious service offered, helped teach GED classes, and counseled girls who came in feeling hopeless and alone. She said her heart was full. Not because of what she has in life, but because she can give of herself to others. God is faithful in exercising his mercy and grace, Misti said.
“Thank God I wasn’t charged with first degree murder when I went to jail, I was sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter instead of two life sentences. I will serve eight to fifteen years before I get released. For me , Prison is a wonderful opportunity to help others and grow.”
Since she entered WERDCC (a women’s facility in Vandalia, Missouri), Mistie has spent two and a half years in the BFA program (Christian Reintegration Program), teaching a two-year course on the impact of crime on victims, completing took a vo-tech class, earned AFAA certification, taught aerobics classes at the institution for six years, and lectured in pre-release classes for two years.
She said she has been blessed to help others over the past decade, which has changed who she is as a person. She was also lucky enough to meet the love of her life with whom she was able to spend the last three years.
“Can a person be happy in prison? Happiness is a choice,” Misty said. “No matter where you are, you are doing one every day. Happiness is not based on what’s going on around you, it’s based on what’s going on inside of you. Every situation you encounter in life has the potential to change you or the lives of others.
Do you think you can be happy in prison? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Interview with Mistie Vance, Inmate at WERDCC in Vandalia, MO