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I had only just begun to process the finality of my circumstances: regardless of the amount of preparation I thought I had accomplished, nothing prepared me for anything like this. I was scared, humiliated, embarrassed, all made worse by the immense sense of loneliness I felt in a place riddled with discrimination, pettiness and strong feelings. I remember the yearning for an ounce of kindness, compassion in any form—a kind word, a thank you, a smile, some acknowledgement that someone knew what I was going through. The only certainty I knew was being completely alone.

I struggled in the prison for the first few months—kept to myself as much as I could, did what I was told and stayed in my space.

My parents are Episcopalian. I attended church as a child but was never baptized. I stopped going to church in my late teens, attending for holiday services or an event.

I had heard about different church services offered by the prison, and after some investigation, discovered the time of the Episcopal services. I had left the other services somewhat unfulfilled and was looking for or expecting something, but what?

I will never forget the first Episcopal service I attended. I was greeting by the most welcoming smile, a hug, an introduction, then another hug. The greeting alone would insure my return. A smile is a blessing. I will always be grateful for those smiles which warmed my heart and made me feel so welcome. I cried in church that day, overcome by emotion, and I have been coming back ever since. Something I wasn’t aware I had lost was found, my faith.

It is a struggle to find something within these walls to give you a sense of purpose, a sense of hope; something to affirm your existence here does not need to be as bleak as it seems. The church changed all that for me. In it, I discovered a place of restoration. A place, even in this difficult setting, which reaffirms not all relationships have to be toxic, untrusting, manipulating; they can be supportive compassionate, honest and healthy.

On those days when it feels like the sky is an endless expanse of grey, my faith is reinforced by the comfort I feel in church. A little ray of sunshine struggling to break through, it is a smile which does not leave my face; it is the promise of something brighter. I am reminded even here, we still have the freedom to love God and honor our relationship with Him. The challenge we face  is to remain open and not allow our differences and daily difficulties divide us and make us stray from our faith. I have to believe every day, through my faith, I can extinguish some of the ill will and harshness which is part of the facility.

I found the courage to make God a part of my life and I found so much more. I rely on my relationship with God to build me up when I fall and help me navigate the course I am on. I know now I am worthy of God’s love, deserving of forgiveness and never completely alone.