Defining Our Dreams Together

Editor’s Note – Since last fall, MSW Intern Jessica Hunt has been been working in case management with Amicus Reconnect, helping clients who are seeking employment, housing and a new start after incarceration.  In addition to that though, using her skills as a trained journalist, Jessica has also devoted herself to capturing the experiences and thoughts of clients who have volunteered to share  their stories. These stories are vital because they can give those of us in the free world an idea of the challenges faced by those hoping to find a new future. Much of her outstanding work can be seen as part of this blog.

Jessica’s internship ended this past week and we wish her the best in this new phase of her education, even though we fully expect to see her again soon. You see, it’s not always easy working in Amicus, but once you’re here, a part of you never truly leaves.   Here’s Jessica’s reflection on her internship.

When I first stepped into the Amicus office last September, I came in with big dreams and high expectations for myself and the individuals I would soon be helping. I was confident that I would make a change and that building positive relationships would be the answer to all of their problems and needs.

Little did I know then.

About a month after I begin my internship – juggling time at Amicus, a part-time job, graduate school and a personal life – I begin to feel the realities and pressures of not only my life but also those pressures individuals coming out of prison face every day.

I didn’t know then that I would meet individuals with both a level-three sex offense and a mental disability.

I could not anticipate an individual coming into Amicus and telling me he was  contemplating suicide.

Little did I know that that one of my clients would be doing well, and then later have to make the tough decision to quit both school and his job in order to satisfy  inflexible parole requirements.

I then made the choice to go from three to two days in the office. This seemingly small change, though a tough call, helped immensely by giving me time away from the immediate demands of clients and  more time to see the bigger picture, focusing longer on specific clients through case management.

Ironically, though, I leave Amicus feeling the same burden and need to do something. When someone needing Amicus services asks, “When will it get better? Will it ever get better?” I am tempted to agree with them. Why do systems and institutions have to be the way they are? Why must they force someone to compromise their longterm goals and dreams just to survive for the day?

Despite the work that still needs to be done for individuals who hold a criminal record, I have learned and am still learning to let go of my personal ambitions. I realized that relying on the “good feeling” helping others can bring should not be the thing motivating me to do this work. There is no question that indeed there is an obligation to help.

Instead, I have learned how ineffective it is to compare myself with others and to convey that message to my clients also. Yet many of them, due to their criminal record, are forced to face a stigma that society places on them in comparison with others.

What is even more damaging, though, is when they and I begin to internalize the negative responses and labels. For that reason, I have discovered the need to help them see that little strides are sometimes just enough. We are not all the same. We  do not all face the same circumstances, nor have the same strengths, weaknesses and support systems. Despite the present trials, I hope that collectively we can move forward with the hope that nothing is forever and that our efforts will be worth it.

How we will know we’ve made it?

When we are able to realize the beauty in our uniqueness and trials.

When we can strive to be the best person that we can be right now.

That might mean not clinching that job or house. That might not mean being happy all of the time and not depressed. All of this is part of being human.

Clients have shown me that what matters even more is a simple recognition of the goodness around us, which sometimes goes unnoticed or is ignored.

One client, for instance, came into the office one day with treats for everyone and humbly did so not expecting much thanks. We can learn from that.

In the end, I feel it comes down to shifting our focus back on having relationships. That is what Amicus is all about, but it is still easy to place so much significance on perfection and success.

May we begin to define our own success, however small or big vision that may be, and share that with others.