An Aussie, a pastor's daughter, wife and mother, a wealthy professional woman and investor. Accustomed to respect, raised in a stable two parent home she hears the door slam behind her. Not just any door. She is in jail.
This blog is longer than optimum, but I wanted to give it to you one piece, I could not stand your suspense! Hah, wazup with that? I hope you read it to the end and enjoy it.
Living in Queensland, Trish was a typical Australian wife and mother. She and her husband worked hard and successfully invested their money. Although more successful than most, they did not flaunt their wealth. Trish brought another investor into the business. When he robbed her and her investors she, his business associate was arrested, her life did a one eighty. She was charged and imprisoned for eight months.
Instead of a fine she received the maximum penalty. Devastated by financial ruin, disgrace and the total implosion to her family life Trish was convinced that there was a higher reason for her imprisonment. In prison she took on her typical role of rescuer and cared for those around her no matter how bitter or broken. She faced severe reprimand when a prisoner she prayed for collapsed. She was ordered not to use the name of Jesus or mention her faith. This turned her into the “go to” person for clandestine prayer. In a politically correct system, only Christians are allowed to be discriminated against.
Unlike many Trish did not adopt a "prison persona". Although she says she was “pretty intense” while incarcerated and concedes her personality changed over the time. It was impossible to remain untainted in a discouraging environment. She saw every day injustice, favoritism, back-stabbing, Christians failing to live their faith and nastiness. It was wearying. She fears she was less than kind on occasion. She fought the temptation to become hardened and cynical. Being unable to express anger or not having the right to dispute issues took its toll.
After Trish’s release she encountered other ex-prisoners in her life’s routine. Surprisingly, “It was lovely to see them. One in particular who was not very friendly in prison actually gave me a hug”. They relaxed, laughed and cried together. They all understood the mixed feelings, the frustration when family tried but failed to understand their turbulent emotions. The former inmates expressed gratitude for her strong faith even if they didn’t share it. They knew she cared.
She wondered what would happen if she met one particular officer. She imagined screaming in his face, “Why didn’t you do your job properly?” She knows that likely with her heart thumping she would just stare silently in disgust. Other officers she met at a fund raiser for Nepalese women prisoners were very friendly and encouraging.
Trish recounts a truly difficult moment. She was to give 5 minute testimonial at a Prison Fellowship breakfast. The woman who ran the minimum security facility where she served part of her sentence was present. That woman had contributed to Trish’s misery at that facility. Anger she did not know she still harbored rose and almost became a panic attack. Trish fled to regroup and cry. She could not give her speech without first doing business with God. She made herself forgive her and acknowledge her in the speech.
The video of her 5 minute speech is here http://www.mediavisionz.com.au/prisonfellowship/mediaplayer
When asked how those in her network now treat her Trish said “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.” Most of her network supports her. They all know she hadn’t actually stolen any funds.
Some thought she should have known better. She disagrees. Some needed someone to blame, she understood that. Only a few turned nasty, some who blamed her didn’t say anything.
Upon release she was accepted back into her friendship and family circle. She had maintained contact through her letters and emails her husband sent during her imprisonment. Upon release they made a point of surrounding her with encouragement and support.
Her parents faced the situation with courage. They announced her sentence to the church they pastored. The changed family arrangements meant her mother would care for the children. Trish and her family had moved in with them before her court proceedings. The church rallied and wrote letters of encouragement. Trish said, “It was emotionally shattering for her parents but they soldiered. They had to. We all agreed that the girls needed a stable environment while I was away.” It was particularly hard on her mother to see Trish suffer.
Trish’s in laws are not demonstrative. They are not very active in their Catholic faith. They don’t talk about feelings, yet they encouraged and supported her. Since beginning to speak publicly and publishing her books, her entire family is actually proud of her.
Her parent’s faith helps them resolve what happened. They believe there is a higher purpose to what happened, as difficult as it is to accept. They prayed - a lot. They were encouraged by Trish’s prison letters. Their church family and friends supported them. Her mother talked to the prison chaplain, that helped. They needed other people to talk to. Trish wasn’t that person. At one point she said asked them not to raise the issue of their financial losses, it tormented her. She said, “It is one thing to lose your own money, it’s far worse to have played a role in losses suffered by those you love”.
She said that prison changed her in different ways. She now has a deeper compassion for others. Her priorities changed. She is less judgmental. Although she is intolerant of others who make stupid, uninformed comments about prisons or the disadvantaged. Interestingly she has no fear of anyone who looks rough and dangerous, yet by contrast she fears the disapproval of ‘respectable’ people.
She said, “Prison is a bubble. Everyone there has already been judged, no one is surprised that you did something wrong. For the most part prisoners accept each other. Upon returning to ‘respectable society’ I felt different, tainted. I doubted that I had the right to participate especially as I am now prevented from working at certain jobs or buying insurance”. She knows she shouldn’t feel this way. She has paid a price and is equal to everyone else. But it was difficult to match that knowledge with her feelings. Until, she had a revelation of ‘grace’.
“While in worship I thought about the work of the cross. It came to me that if Christ died to make me free, and I do not walk in that freedom, I am devaluing his act of sacrifice. When sin is forgiven, we are made totally new again, without condemnation. If I can hold my head up before God, I had to hold my head up before society. Regardless of what anyone thinks, I am worthy and I have something to contribute. I don’t need to keep apologizing.
“It felt like I had been holding my breath for 8 months and exhaling just broke me. My emotions were all over the place. Good customer service from a store clerk almost made me cry. I discovered a capacity for rage I had not previously experienced. Little things set me off yet I barely noticed things that upset others.”
Trish said many women in prison behaved like rebellious pre-teens. “When my pre-teens misbehaved, I over-reacted, alarmed that they were potentially acting like criminals!”
Church helped her re-orient back into society. Worship and being with those who loved her was healing. But it was still a “bumpy” journey.
When her friends, at a coffee shop, complained about slow service and that their latte wasn’t right she was just grateful to have a decent coffee in a lovely setting. Although she remained silent she couldn’t believe they were annoyed at such trivial inconveniences.
Prayer counseling was very helpful and more effective than seeing a psychologist, although that helped too. Spending time quietly in the garden with a cup of tea was relaxing.
When asked how the department could have helped she suggested they weed out the officers who treat prisoners like scum. She encountered three kinds of prison officers. Those who care, do a good job and want to make a difference. Those who have mentally “checked out,” they show up for their pay, don’t want to know and don’t care what happens. Those who are cynical, hate their job and take delight in being nasty because they believe their charges are no good anyway.
Post prison help is thin on the ground and being released has its own set of problems, some practical some psychological. Those who are dependent on welfare get help. Housing is a priority for ex-prisoners, although ironically homelessness is increased. Sometimes get help with employment. Drug addicts may get help for their addiction.
Trish said she would have liked to have had a re-orientation session, to know what other prisoners experienced, and to know what help is available. A counselor could advise those released how they might feel and how to cope with those feelings. Trish wonders if giving such help would mean the department admits that prison damages prisoners, “they’d rather believe they had ‘rehabilitated’ than harmed us”.
She suggests that a simple flyer informing families that their loved one may be different, be more emotional and provide coping tips or direct them to counseling help would be beneficial. She thinks that the family having access to a counselor, even by phone, and the children having a kid’s book assisting them to adjust without taking the shame on as their own would also help.
A prisoner communicating with the family is key to every one’s adjustment. Letters help but prisons could consider recording videos of prisoners sending messages of love to their families. Trish says that the visual of their parent would go a long way to comfort children who may not be able to visit.
While prison changes a person’s self concept she never saw herself as a ‘criminal’, even while in prison. This caused some awkward moments for staff. Trish hated seeing official documents listing her as ‘Offender’. Staff with lower standards than hers, some of whom were morally bankrupt and foul mouthed, slack at their job looked down on her. She said, “My responses varied. Sometimes I pitied them. Other times I deliberately used words I knew they would not understand to show I was not as stupid as they. It was petty but satisfying. I never, ever patronized prisoners that way. I felt too much compassion for their disadvantaged state”. Trish did not fit the inmate mold. She spoke differently, came from a different background causing some to assume she thought she was superior. Those who got to know her realized that wasn’t true.
She now refers to herself as a “criminal” at speaking engagements. The audience laughs. She doesn’t look like anyone's idea of a criminal.
Trish had a solid work ethic, she applied herself to life, and family and success. It felt like they were talking about someone else when they talked about her as a criminal. She said she accepts the term ‘prisoner’ because she was imprisoned. She hates being referred to as ‘Offender’. She asked an officer to explain that label. “What does it mean? I committed an offense once, who am I offending now?” She answered, “Well it’s politically correct.”
“How? What is politically correct about it?” She couldn’t answer and didn’t understand why I wanted to know. Trish never accepted the title ‘criminal’ it as her identity, it was attached to an act, it didn’t define her. She knew she was forgiven by God and prison was to be endured as a consequence of human judgment.
It was really painful to be separated from her family. She tried not to think about them too often. She wrote happy letters to the children encouraging them to be good for Daddy. They visited her at the minimum security facility. Her application for the Day Release program was not granted when she transferred to a maximum security unit.
Her imprisonment affected her children. Occasionally they still mention it. They each suffered and express their hurt differently. Fortunately her family helped them through this. When they mention it now, Trish reframes their memory in terms of the good that has come out of it. It opened a speaking ministry to her where she helps others. It showed them how much they love each other. Her missing them makes her try to be a better mother now she’s home. They have developed strong character traits from the adversity. They are thankful for the good things they have, they have compassion on the less fortunate and a sense of destiny to make the world a better place.
Many children of prisoners are hurt and angry and when they express these emotions inappropriately they are punished. They need help. They feel lost and abandoned. Sometimes those caring for them, abuse them, actually failing to address their emotional needs is a form of abuse. The needs of the children cannot be dismissed by the system. Their understandable resentment often causes more serious behavior problems in later life.
Referring to the regret and guilt at getting involved with a con man Trish said “This is hard to address because it was so painful.” Trish said, “I have tremendous regret. I broke the law. If I could change what I did, I would, regardless of the good that has come out of it. I wish I had never met him. However the wrong beliefs and assumptions I had as an investor meant that I would have made a bad investment choice eventually. Whether it was to fall for a con or make a legitimate loss wouldn’t make any difference.
“What kills me is that I thought I was being a generous person by sharing the opportunity, when that was an unwise thing to do. Investment is not for everyone. No matter what people say about being able to take a loss, many can’t, emotionally or financially. I could have handled losing my investment. It was the legal issues that ruined us financially.
“That the loss was the result of the fellow stealing from us was galling. I would have reported him had I suspected it. Then I would not have paid investors when I shouldn’t have and wouldn’t have gotten into trouble.
“Guilt? Healthy guilt is good. It leads to repentance. It’s what makes us apologize. Condemnation is guilt that won’t let up. It makes us ashamed and feel unworthy. I battled that for a long time.”
“I held myself to a higher standard than others. They could fail. Friends committed adultery, broke their marriage and moved on with their lives. I didn’t approve but I understood their human weakness. Why didn’t I give myself the same grace? Painfully I realized it was a form of pride. To think I am above moral failure is to set myself up for failure.
“Dwelling on self-recrimination is destructive and unscriptural. It took constant reminders to myself that not only has Christ paid for my sin, I paid by going to prison. Nobody goes to prison for the ruin they bring on their family from their adultery. No amount of punishment removes guilt and shame. Only forgiveness can.
“I accept what God says about me. I accept that I am only human, like everyone else. I accept my vulnerability and in doing so I find surprising freedom.
“Investors lost real money, he stole all our money. I met with some of the investors at the liquidation meetings before I went to prison. Most didn’t blame me as I was not the one who stole the money. They could see I was just as deceived as they."
Going public about her experience takes all the courage she has. Trish does it to help others on many levels, including avoiding being defrauded. The story of how she handled the losses, the prison experience and her recovery touches people’s lives. She is delighted when others tell her that reading her book or hearing her talk made a difference.
Her message is: “You matter, you have value, we need you!” Shame is crippling. It is a liar. It prevents us from feeling worthy of offering our gifts. To get free of shame brings joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. It allows you to confidently live your purpose, and change the world - for the better.
“...and we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
She says, "That which could have destroyed me is now allows me to serve others. I get a kick out of that!"
One of her referees wrote, "Trish is a passionate, direct and challenging! Audiences walk away with: • Keys for professional & personal development • The ability to find treasure in dark places • A renewed sense of passion and purpose Trish will challenge your thinking, lift your spirits and have you walking out feeling like the conqueror you were born to be."
If you want to know more about her, visit http://trishjenkins.com.au/
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