A little bit about me, I was born and raised in Southern California and moved to Orange County when my parents divorced. My dad took custody of me and my brother when we were just 8 and 9 years old. My father worked hard to provide a good life for us, but we had to grow up quickly without a mother. In high school, I started drinking at the age of 15 and by 18 I was partying almost every weekend. I started working in the nightlife industry and worked my way up to an executive position in the marketing department at the Wynn. The hospitality and nightlife industry calls for us to go out a lot, and I was drinking at least 3-4 nights a week. This lifestyle was only sustainable for so long before I started having marital problems and used drinking as a way to cope.
In 2015, I was involved in a DUI car accident that resulted in an 8–20-year prison sentence. I never could have imagined that choosing to get behind the wheel impaired would take someone's life and forever alter the trajectory of mine. As I walked through those prison doors, I had no idea what would lie ahead, but I knew that I had to use this time to better myself and help others along the way.
I first learned about Hope for Prisoners in 2017 when I was an in-house resident at Casa Grande. I heard about the annual Christmas event and asked Jon Ponder if I could volunteer to help decorate and serve food the night of. It was during this special night that I saw just how amazing Hope for Prisoners was. Seeing all the people with their families and children. Opening gifts, Christmas music playing and everyone having a great time. I was in AW that we could experience something like this while still being incarcerated.
Fast forward two years, On March 16, 2020, our city went on lockdown for Covid-19. Within weeks of being on lockdown, Hope for Prisoners had an entire computer lab up and running, not only for individuals to take vocational courses, but to allow those of us who wanted to attend college to have the ability to do our classes via remote learning. If it wasn’t for Hope for Prisoners providing the computers, I wouldn’t have been able to start the master's program that I had recently been accepted to at UNLV. I finished the entire first year of my Degree Program while we were on lockdown inside Casa Grande because I had access to a computer and was able to take my classes online. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity.
I would like to share with you what my life has been like since I shared my Vivid Vision. In October of 2021, shortly after I became a community trustee at Casa Grande, I was offered a position as a counselor intern at a faith-based mental health facility. As a counselor-in-training, I have spent the last fifteen months growing in my knowledge and understanding of the counseling profession and helping others heal from their past trauma and mental health issues using a spiritual approach to healing.
In Fall 2022, I was chosen to represent the graduate college as a Grad Rebel Ambassador where I represent justice-impacted students on campus. Part of my requirement for this position was to present my thesis research in front of a large audience full of faculty, staff, and students at the UNLV Graduate College. My thesis research was on Women, Trauma, and Incarceration. As a woman who has experienced trauma both before and during prison, it was important for me to do research on this topic through personal interviews and observations during my incarceration. More importantly, having the ability to share these experiences with others in my future profession as well as the faculty and students at UNLV in hopes that we can work together to make positive changes in the prison system moving forward.
In just three short months, I will graduate from UNLV with a master's degree in clinical Mental Health Counseling and an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies. Not only will I finish my prison sentence with all my education completed, but I did all of this while still living at Casa Grande. I share these things with you not to boast, but to show you that you CAN achieve your goals and dreams, regardless of your past or your current circumstances. My life is living proof of this.
My ultimate goal now is to become a duly licensed therapist, specializing in both addiction and mental health, where I can continue to help individuals become healthy in mind, body, and soul and achieve overall health and wellness in their lives. I also want to continue advocating for prison reform, where I can utilize my firsthand experience and education in order to contribute to making it better for those who are still currently incarcerated.
The best piece of advice I can give to new graduates is to take all the opportunities that come your way, allow people to help and support you, and most importantly, strive every day to reach your full potential.
It’s not always going to be easy. Life is filled with ups and downs, and we live in a society where we don’t want to accept that there will be good seasons and bad seasons. You will experience adversity again, and there are additional hurdles that you must overcome. But you must push past these hurdles and allow them to make you stronger. Never, never, never give up. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” I have held onto the words in this scripture, as this promise comes from God Himself.