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How Do I Start All Over Again? Effective Methods For A New Start
By Dalonika McDonald, Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Parole Division
Published: 08/12/2013

Startingover Several years ago in our Women R Worth It class, a group of women on parole were sitting around in a circle. Linda, one of the women who was recently released from prison started to clear her throat to speak. It was obvious she was trying to hold back her tears. I remember looking at her thinking, how shocked I was about her desire to dialogue with the group. In all the weeks we had been in class, she had spoke very little. As she began to talk, a piece of her hair fell in her face, which she shyly pushed back into the ponytail. She was frail, and her clothing looked worn. Linda's clothing defiantly did not accent her. My, thoughts were interrupted by her question. "How am I suppose to feed my kids? How am I suppose to start over?"

Linda went on to say how her son came to her that morning, "when are things going to get better?". Linda had just completed six years of a nine year prison sentence; for possession of a controlled substance. She went on to say, "I did not know what to tell my son as he looked at me with hurtful eyes. Everywhere I turned for state assistance, they rejected me. I couldn't get assistance for food, housing or employment. With my felony conviction no one want to hire me. I don't know what to do. I'm trying to keep from going back to my old ways." Her voice tailored off into a whisper as she could not hold in her tears any longer.

At that moment another woman-Ms. Sherry, who is on parole, began to speak, "I am going through the same thing and would just like prayer," as she broke out in loud sobs. The next twenty minutes was spent by several of the ladies stating, in agreement they all need help. It's hard trying to establish yourself back into society after serving time in prison. Before the last lady finished speaking there was not a dry eye in the room.

I shared the story of the lady's on parole, to share must of us do not have to start all over from this type of blunder. This does not mean we all could not use a few tips to get us on the right road to success.

My Own Story

Over twenty years ago, I had to make a decision about my new direction in life. With a baby; a high school diploma, and no financial support, there was no other option but to move forward with a vengeance! There were life traumas, that had to be placed behind me. A murdered friend, which her unbelievable untimely death made national news. A recent divorce by my parents and a personal relationship full of immature love. All of these critical circumstances caused me to become more of a strategic planner for a better future. I refused to be part of any negative statics. My eye sight was set on achieving my goal to complete my criminal justice degree. It was difficult trying to remain on course. Enduring my lean years were challenging.

"It is okay," I had to say to myself many of times; "remember, you're working towards a life changing goal." No brand new cars, no new apparel, and no eating out. My budget was formatted to my plan. There were times I became frustrated, due to not seeing my degree in a nice frame as quick as I thought it should come. During the many struggles, and down times for me; my mother was my chief cheerleader-she still is today. As I was walking across the stage to receive my criminal justice degree, I had no idea all the doors which would open up for me due to hanging in and completing my plan. During the course of my life, I have had to re-invent myself at various times in my life professionally and personally.

How Do I Re-Position Myself Now?
  1. Place your life under a laser focused microscope; MAKE adjustments. Then decide what you want to see unfold in your life.
  2. Set strong goals; think, what goal can I set? If accomplished, how would my life change?
  3. When establishing your goals, see from a helicopter perspective. What would your final end look like? According to your answer, is how you will build on your task to accomplish your goals.
  4. Have accountability. Your best answers have got you where you're at. Look for someone who can shine a new light oror perspective. Find a mentor, get a book of value, which would assist you in accomplishing your greatest goal.
  5. Stay committed to your goal no matter what-do not quit, as the poem state, you can't tell how close you are by the resistance which come your way.
  6. Stay focused! Beware of distractions, which can cause setbacks.
  7. Create a new picture; from the old to the new. Collect photos of your new job, your new marriage, or your new book. Place your vision board on a visible place for you to see.
  8. Keep the new life in front of you. Play motivational CD's in your car on repeat. When you are the most frustrated is when you need the reminders. IPods, read books on how to stay on the right track towards your goals.
  9. Feel the Fear, but Do It Anyway! Do not allow the 'MONSTER' of fear to stop you from moving forward into your new life.
  10. Change your ATTITUDE...Change your WORDS...Change your LIFE.

It is time for everyone, no matter what you're starting over from; to take control over your life. Flush all forms of complaining, or being the victim. Take the drivers seat rather your coming from prison or the palace. Find the new you. Everyone's desire is to be happy!

What we shared with the women coming out of prison, were resourses. Cognitive intervention training, to change the way they saw themselves. Teamed our ladies up with mentors and people who they could be accountable to.

"Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives." -Willa A. Foster

Other articles by McDonald

Corrections.com author Dalonika McDonald is a former Lieutenant for the Nebraska Penal System. She was promoted by The Texas Department of Criminal Justice to supervise staff to promote security first, and then provide resource services and programs to ex-offenders and their families. 
The scope of McDonald's professional experience encompasses more than inmate relations, she is a highly accomplished criminal justice and public relations specialist poised for her role as a community liaison, instrumentally contributed to recruitment initiatives, training and development and strategic building of relationships with corporate leaders, as an active member of many local and national organizations including: National Association of Women Business Owners, American Correctional Association, Executive Women in Texas Government.


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  2. laurenfreenow on 08/18/2013:

    The way this list helps the ladies in the story... and those who follow behind them... although it isn't a concrete solution to the problem at hand... circumstances come and go. These problems are faced by people all of the time and the actual solutions can vary from town to town and state to state. It is a matter of changing attitude. Not allowing circumstances to dictate a feeling of hopelessness over your life. Circumstances can be tragic and difficult and even sometimes seemingly impossible to overcome but it isn't the circumstances that we face that hold us back forever it is the attitude and perspective that we handle them with. Changing that inside of our selves is the first key. Being determined and ready to do whatever it takes ( in the right manner) will lead eventually to the next keys. I personally have felony drug convictions on my record and can't get food stamps and various types of assistance, thankfully I haven't often been in a situation that I needed them but when I have it made me angry that my tax dollars fund these programs that I can't access when I do need them. I have begun working to change that law for the people who come behind me. The people who don't have a voice, the people who are too stigmatized to use their voice, and the people who are too busy trying to survive to even know such movements exist. I know that it can be difficult and we some face harder challenges than even I, but I know it CAN be done. Hope that helps a little. There are more concrete solutions, maybe not as many as we would like but this list is better advice than they may have known at that time!

  3. Writing Prof on 08/17/2013:

    I love this list--all positive! I am curious, though: how can this list help the 2 ladies in your story? They can't get jobs, they have no money, no food, etc. Where do they go to get that first step up? prisongrievances.com

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