Susan Mwarabu has been a volunteer social media contributor for Amicus since 2011. Susan relocated to North Carolina and is currently in graduate school, attaining her Masters in Public Administration. Her experiences with the justice system have prompted her series of letters to Amicus which will highlight her first meeting with Amicus, her probation experiences, as well as how she has dealt with job hunting challenges.
By Susan Mwarabu
I have often wondered what other people feel when they have to go through a process of incarceration, probation or parole, like I did. How do they feel when they can’t find work, and even more so, how do they interact with people who don’t know them?
When I walk down the street, I often wonder whether just by looking at me, people know how much more I have to overcome. Not only do I have to overcome employment barriers, I also have to overcome housing barriers, then I have to overcome barriers to participating fully in the social life of my neighborhood. More often than not, I feel like I am a spectator to something that I am not truly a part off… the world.
It takes lots of compartmentalizing, a healthy dose of creativity and the ability of being able to laugh at the sheer absurdity of life. That’s how you get through the invisible sentence you have to live with after committing your mistake. It follows you everywhere and like an invisible hand with a vice like grip, forces you to live on the margins of life. Looking in, I often wonder whether I can ever truly be part of the world again. Have I forever been changed by this experience?
To get through my first two years of probation, I compartmentalized. Just like eating and sleeping, seeing my probation officer was an important “to-do” on my list. And with the new Justice Reinvestment Act going into effect, a probation officer wields more power than ever before. They have the power to arrest you for violations and therefore I expressed a healthy amount of respect in both how I spoke to them, as well as in my body language.
Outside of my probation duties, I conducted a semi-normal life. I worked (eventually, after two years of unemployment) and interacted with my coworkers but never too closely. After all, I didn’t want them visiting me and chancing the probation officer doing a home visit. It just wasn’t a scenario I wanted to experience. So I have a compartment for everyone. My coworkers stay in their compartment; at work.
Then there is my school compartment. I decided to go back to school. It was a little jarring when one of my classmates turned out to be a police officer. But even that became normal after a while. ‘I wonder if she understands why I am reluctant to share my personal life.’ As a student I work extra hard because I know I have to do my best to be a cut above the rest. ‘I have barriers to overcome.’ I remind myself every time exhaustion threatens to take over.
Family and home are my last compartments. I often find myself looking forward to being around those who really know me. Like my family and even Amicus. I don’t have to worry they will judge me. I don’t have to worry what they will think if they really knew everything about me. This is truly what has kept me going the last couple of years.
I hope everyone who has ever felt the loneliness of trying to find their footing finds this helpful. It takes time to find a place in the world after a mistake, whatever it might be. Living out the invisible sentence of trying to get back into the community can be difficult. There may even be restrictions on where you can be and what you can do and with whom you can interact with. There are even times when things don’t go back to what they were before. Finding a new way to live life with the terms presented to you is the key and being kind to yourself in understanding that there are those things that may never be the same again.
But most importantly find time to laugh.