Prison. As soon as someone in your family went to jail, you became one of "them."
You moved from acceptable to unacceptable, from an insider to an outsider, and from a friend to someone they used to know. You are now stigmatized. If you think that there is no stigma associated with prison, you are in denial. Not only will your husband experience prejudice for being in prison, but your entire family will be labeled as well. People will talk about you and your family, make predictions about your future failures, and cast judgment on you.
Incarceration brings many battles with it.
You will be fighting to keep your family intact, to reestablish your reputation, and to support your family financially. The truth is, you do not have time to worry about what other people are saying about you. They will think what they want to believe. Their opinions should not influence your decisions. If you stopped trying because of the horrid things people are saying about you or your family, it is time to get moving forward again. I know it is painful when people you care about say hurtful things about you. Discouragement sneaks in and tries to stop you from reaching your dreams.
You cannot believe what they say about you.
You must not live your life trying to please others. You will NEVER please them. People who criticize you now will still find something to criticize you for when you become successful. Bitter people complain and gossip. When I was miserable, and on welfare, they pointed out my struggles, looked at me with disdain mixed with pity, and degraded me for being on welfare. I hated the things they said, but I hated the way they looked at me even more. I was determined to work hard and change my circumstances.
Every day I worked harder and harder to get ahead. Many days it felt like I was just spinning my wheels because I didn’t see the progress I was making. Some nights I would wonder if the people who were talking so badly about me were right—maybe I would fail. Then, I would talk to Ron, and he would encourage me to ignore people who were spewing hate toward us and focus on our goals instead. Over time, I slowly navigated off welfare. Furthermore, I moved from being a recipient of public assistance to becoming an advocate who helped others get off assistance as well. I began to support my family financially. I felt so good about all my hard work and my successful transition away from government help! However, my success did not stop the stigma.
I discovered that the same people were still talking terribly about my family and me.
No matter what I did, it was wrong. Their outrage that I dared to overcome a difficult situation caused them to be even more hateful. At first, I was devasted. I felt like giving up since nothing I was doing was changing their opinion of me. Then, I realized something essential, something that changed my perception forever. MY OPINION OF ME HAD CHANGED. It didn’t matter what they thought about me anymore. I knew who I was, what I had overcome, and how to change my life. Furthermore, nobody was ever going to take that away from me.
Through the years that followed (and even now), people continued to try to label me in negative ways. However, many others have celebrated my success in overcoming every challenge in front of me. I listen to my critics just enough to keep me motivated to keep striving to become better every day. But I do not let them define me. Their ideas of who I am and how I should live my life are no longer my concern.
You will never please the “haters” in your life. Do not give up when you encounter resistance. Press forward and work to live up to your highest potential. Pain and suffering are your greatest teachers, do not use them as an excuse to fail.
These three things will keep you focused on your future, instead of the gossip:
- Work hard. Idleness allows mind battles to turn into defeat
- Follow God. Finding out who God created you to be is a powerful defense against the awful things people say about you.
- Shut up. Do not get caught up in complaining, spreading gossip about others, or continually trying to defend yourself.
- Stay focused. Don’t let temporary troubles stop you from doing the right thing.
You can overcome the stigma of prison by choosing to focus your energy on building a new legacy. The stigma will still be there, but your success will overshadow it.
I am rooting for you!