The Grief Has Settled: A Year of Advocacy and Self Discovery

Second Chance Essay about resilience and growth over the course of a year when opportunities are available to returning citizens.

The Grief Has Settled: A Year of Advocacy and Self Discovery

By Ben Wright

A year ago, as I stepped into the world fresh from the confines of prison, I carried with me not just the tangible weight of my past but a grief so profound it threatened to overshadow the potential of my future. This grief was not just for the time lost or the opportunities missed; it was a mourning for the part of myself that I feared was irretrievably lost—my identity as a teacher, a mentor, and an advocate. As I introduce Second Chance Month at JSTOR Access in Prison this year, I do so not from a place of uncertainty and loss, but from a standpoint of profound growth, advocacy, and self-discovery.

Last year's presentation during Second Chance 2023 was a pivotal moment for me. It was an opportunity not just to share the intricacies of disability within prison walls—a subject close to my heart—but to rekindle the spark of my former self that I thought prison had extinguished. My journey over the past year has been one of navigating through the shadows of doubt to find opportunities that align with my core identity and values. The Stop the Stigma conference served as a significant milestone in this journey, offering me a platform to use my teaching skills in new and impactful ways.

This year, as we focus on Second Chance Month at JSTOR Access in Prison, I reflect on my own second chance—a journey marked by both advocacy and self-discovery. The transition from prison to freedom is fraught with challenges, from the stigma that clings like a shadow to the logistical hurdles of reintegration. However, it is also ripe with opportunities for growth, learning, and advocacy. My work in the past year, particularly with the Stop the Stigma conference, has not only allowed me to advocate for those still silenced within prison walls but has also helped me rediscover my passion for teaching and mentorship.

The conference, which aimed to destigmatize mental health and issues within the prison system, was a testament to the power of education and advocacy. Through coordinating this event, I was able to channel my teaching skills into empowering others, creating a space for open dialogue and understanding. This experience underscored the fact that the skills and passions that define us do not fade away; they merely await new avenues of expression.

Advocacy, particularly within the context of prison reform and rehabilitation, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It is about lifting voices that have been systematically silenced and advocating for systemic changes that acknowledge the dignity and potential of every individual. My journey from uncertainty to advocacy is a reflection of this belief. It is a narrative that underscores the importance of second chances, not just for individuals but for society as a whole.

As we embark on Second Chance Month, I am reminded of the power of education as a tool for liberation. JSTOR Access in Prison is more than just a program; it is a lifeline that connects incarcerated individuals to a world of knowledge, offering hope and the promise of a future beyond the prison walls. Education is a catalyst for transformation, providing the skills and confidence needed to navigate the challenges of reintegration and to advocate for oneself and others.

In reflecting on the past year, I am struck by the realization that the grief which once seemed an insurmountable barrier has settled into a quiet acceptance. It is an acceptance not of defeat but of transformation. The challenges and uncertainties of reintegration have given way to opportunities for growth and advocacy. Through my work with Stop the Stigma and my engagement with Second Chance Month, I have found new ways to use my voice and my teaching skills to effect change.

The journey from prison back to society is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of second chances. As we highlight the stories and successes of those who have navigated this path, let us also remember the importance of continued advocacy and support. The grief may have settled, but the work of building a more inclusive, compassionate, and understanding society continues. This Second Chance Month, let us commit to being part of that change, advocating for second chances not just in words but in action.