After Eight Years . . . Eight Days of Gratitude - Part 7

In today’s post (part 7 of my “8 days of gratitude”), I want to offer a very special and heart-felt THANK YOU to my family. There’s absolutely no way I could have made this radical mid-life career change and stepped into this work without their unwavering and unconditional encouragement, support, understanding, patience, and, in some instances, their personal involvement.

When I went from writing Grace Goes to Prison to the cross-country book tour to working for the RMO, it’s safe to say I had no clue what I was getting myself into or where all of this would lead. And neither did my family.

What we’ve all discovered is that this kind of work is so much more than “a job”, and that the demands of the work can’t help but impact your family in both expected and unexpected ways.

For me, it quickly became the meaning and purpose for my life – my “ikigai.”
As I felt a strong calling to immerse myself more and more deeply into this work, I felt the need to go to more and more trainings, conferences, and events. I spent long hours reading books and watching documentaries about the criminal justice system trying to learn all I could. I committed to a lot of speaking engagements and attended a LOT of meetings, some worthwhile, others . . . not so much.

I corresponded with dozens of incarcerated men and women, striving to understand their lives and experience, and taking faltering steps toward trying to offer them tiny seeds of hope and compassion. I took phone calls from people in crisis, and blundered through trying to find meaningful and effective ways to help.

All of which meant that an inordinate amount of my time, attention, thoughts, and emotional energy was diverted “elsewhere”, even when I was physically at home.

Despite some initial trepidation about this strange new world that I’d waded into, my family patiently listened as I questioned conventional wisdom about the criminal justice system, quoted statistics, shared stories, ranted about nonsensical, counter-productive and even harmful laws and policies, and lamented examples of injustices.

Not only did they listen. They engaged in the conversation and the learning with me. They asked questions. They offered their own ideas and perspectives. They challenged me and played devil’s advocate. They sent me articles they’d come across that they thought I might find helpful.

Bruce, Eric and Hannah have come with me to various speaking engagements, helped me schlep boxes of books and materials into events, meetings, and training sessions, and helped me set up my Powerpoint presentations.

Hannah traveled with me on both my original Grace Tour and more recently, to trauma-informed communities in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. And she got interested enough in some of the issues I was constantly harping about that she sought out volunteer work with a program for children of incarcerated parents.

Eric asked insightful questions, engaged in healthy and vigorous debate with me, related stories of people he knew who’d had their own brushes with the criminal justice system, and suggested books, movies and TV shows he’d heard of related to all of this. (and yes, Eric, someday I really AM going to get around to watching The Wire…)

Bruce started doing his own reading and research on several criminal justice topics that piqued his interest. He came with me to volunteer at one of the PA Prison Runathons, met Jerry there, and offered to start visiting Jerry in prison. (we’ve now been visiting and corresponding with Jerry for nearly a decade) Bruce has also engaged in some advocacy work of his own, writing letters to elected officials, and posting articles through his own social media networks to raise awareness and engage other people in dialogue about justice issues.

I’ll freely admit, there were times when all of this consumed me, times when I became somewhat obsessed, singularly focused, and even overwhelmed by the problems in the system, the barriers and challenges that the returning citizens I was serving were facing, and the powerful and corrupting political and economic forces that run rampant through the criminal justice system. Times when I took on way too many commitments and obligations. Times when I utterly failed to draw clear, healthy boundaries between work and home.

Meanwhile, my family made sacrifices, adjusted their own plans to accommodate my schedule, and patiently fended for themselves without complaint on the numerous occasions when I neglected to fulfill even the most basic responsibilities of being a wife and mom.

There must have been times when my family wondered why on earth I was so invested in this, times when they may have wished I’d just shut up about it already, times when they were frustrated, angry, or hurt by how I was prioritizing my time and expending my energy.

Yet, never once did any of them complain or criticize or question what I was doing or how I was going about it. They have consistently encouraged me without hesitation, they have supported me unconditionally, they have explained my work to their friends, and defended it to the critics.

Their loving, unwavering, and gracious acceptance of me and how I’ve gone about this work has been one of the richest blessings of my life. I am humbled, deeply touched, and so very grateful. And I love them more than I can adequately express.

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