Sonia – TAJ Member
According to The Sentencing Project, one out of every three adults in the
United States has been arrested. 1 Millions of men and women are negatively impacted
because of past arrests, convictions, and incarceration. Unjustly after involvement with
the legal system, many pay for their offenses for years, decades, and even lifetimes.
This perpetual sentence and the effects one faces is known as invisible punishment.
The stigma of a criminal record is immense, and many ex-offenders experience
legalized discrimination, subjugation, lack of opportunities, and loss of political power.
Consequently, many people are unable to obtain basic needs, such as employment and
housing, and have no option than to return to the very environment which led to
incarceration. In addition, inability to meet needs may lead to recidivism.
justice system, and I have encountered challenges because of my past. My
involvement was a direct result of drug use. For twenty-four years I was in active
addiction, and this year, I celebrate ten years in recovery. My life has dramatically
changed, but for too many years, I was a slave to my past.
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness, writes, “The shame and stigma that follows you for the rest of your life –
that is the worst” and how “…a felony conviction has been like a mental punishment”. 3
The stigma is far-reaching and can have devastating consequences. I lived in self-
condemnation. The shame was paralyzing and kept me living in fear. I felt my life was
over, for I thought I would be forever marred by the stigma of being a criminal.
But along my journey I discovered self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, and I
learned to separate the person I truly am from the person I become under the influence.
Being clean has transformed my life and given me a peace I never knew existed, so
now the mess of my life has been turned into a message of hope.
I am coming out of the shadows. I no longer have to hide in shame because it
has become self-respect and self-worth. Shame has evolved into advocacy. I am
excited to be a part of Texas Advocates for Justice because I am surrounded by like-
minded people: the formerly incarcerated: their families, faith-based, and civic
organizations. We acknowledge the human suffering that has occurred, and we unite to
challenge the injustices of the criminal justice system. Great strides will be made as we
mobilize to uncover the truth and demand change, and the same men and women who
were once voiceless are now on the forefront of this movement.
I am one of the many who has had personal experience with the criminal
Addiction, crime, incarceration, and the lifestyle are traumatic events.