Cells in jails and prisons around the United States are being filled by women at an alarming rate. Drugs. Crime. Children. Shame. A prison sentence is different for a woman than it is for a man.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Approximately 2.2 million people are behind bars in the nation’s jails and prisons. (The Sentencing Project) The rate of women being imprisoned is “increasing at nearly double the rate for men.” A third of them are incarcerated for drug offenses. (The Sentencing Project)
Two-thirds of the women in state prisons are mothers of a minor child.
Trish Parker was one of these women. She has served time both in a federal prison and local jails and come out, never to return. Her story is remarkable. A light in a dark world, she shows other women the way out of the past.
A third-generation Floridian, Trish Parker was born in Vero Beach, Florida. An introspective child, she spent hours sitting in pine trees wondering about her purpose in life. What she lacked was knowing her own value. Her dad went to Viet Nam, working as a civilian to help raise his family of six children (one child was extremely ill) out of poverty. Trish’s mother became the authoritarian, raising her kids, with the help of Trish, the eldest, on her own.
Trish rebelled. In 9th grade she dropped out of school and began using drugs.
People knew each other in small town America during the 1970s. Trish’s parents deemed her incorrigible at age 14 and sent her to the local jail. After her release, the judge gave her probation until age 18. There were no crimes against humanity assigned to her.
Afterward, Trish served her country by joining the army. There she discovered that she was patriotic, and had organizational and leadership skills, lost and undeveloped during her teen years. She is proud of this period of her life in which she also returned to school to finish a GED.
Drugs beckoned her back to the street though. The worst years of her life were in her 30s and 40s. Traveling to Arizona, Trish decided to embrace her addiction. She told herself, “You’re either going to get over it or die.” She did hard time in the Perryville Women’s Prison, out in the desert, without air conditioning or any conveniences. Upon release, Trish returned to Florida and to her old ways. She wanted to shake the addiction, but just couldn’t do it on her own. Finally, back in court, the judge called her “hopeless.” She thought that he’d sentence her to life; instead, he gave her one year in the county jail.
It was in this place that Trish found help, got cleaned up, and learned to overcome the burden of shame she’d carried from her past. Ms. Parker states, “I had to get honest about my addiction and quit the self-loathing.”
At age 56, Trish Parker is one of the few who have found the path to peace within her soul. She who has been forgiven much, loves much.
Today Trish goes back in behind the gates, fences, walls and bars, to minister to those women inside who are serving their time. They respect her. And she tells them what they must do to get their lives straightened out. “Accept the situation.” “Stop blaming others.” “Put aside your anger.”
Many of these inmates came from troubled homes, suffering with shame before their own children, and can’t see that there really is hope. Others dream that someone will come and save them. A realist, Trish speaks to this: “The world is not going to save you.”
Ms. Parker testifies, “If you say you’re hopeless, you’re telling yourself a lie.” In a conversation, she will not allow the words, “try, but, can’t, if only.” By dropping these negativities, she gets them to see how they’ve been giving away the power to assert control over their own thinking. Part of the problem is in the way these women think, often negatively. They do not understand how to take every thought captive. They are thinking with emotions instead of using their intellect.
Trish educates them with life lessons in this way, often directing them to positive reading material. Trish Parker hasn’t always been a model citizen, but today, she is someone called to the side of many. She has sponsored young women, coming out of jail into halfway houses. Trish has also worked as an assistant to the Public Defender’s office as a mentor to those in the reentry program. Twice a month she pays a visit to the women in the Martin County Jail in Stuart, Florida. Over the years, Trish has ministered to hundreds of women. This kind of tough love she demonstrates helps the women change their lives. Why is this important? It lowers the recidivism rate. A strong courageous woman, once called hopeless, is today the one giving hope. Trish Parker truly is a Hometown Hero.
HAVE A HERO TIP? Hometown Heroes are in every town and city. They are regular people who have made a positive difference in their community, impacting others for the better. Send your Hometown Hero tip to Kelly Jadon firstname.lastname@example.org or find her online at kellyjadon.com.
© 2014 "Hometown Heroes" Kelly Jadon