“Where do you see yourself in the next five years?”
Five years ago I would have never pictured my life would look like it does today.
Five years ago was the last day I woke up in a prison and walked out of the prison gates into the arms of my family. We drove down Freedom Road and I didn’t look back. I was going to see my home for the first time in years and I was so excited yet so overwhelmed.
Over the first few months home I struggled with adjusting back to “real life”. I was just trying to feel normal again not realizing that I would never be the same person I was when I left years before. I look back now at the struggles and I am grateful for the experience because I know it was part of my purpose.
I was accepted to Rutgers University and started taking college classes in September of 2014. That experience was surreal. And still is when I think about it now. I went from college in a prison to a prestigious university, a privilege so few get to have.
Mrs. Jacob Reed established on 12/27/2014.
370 days after coming home I married Jacob. Jacob was incredible and showed me what love really meant. He taught me what God’s love was. Every single night we slept next to each other he held my hand. He was my everything and more. 24 days after we said our vows, I held his hand as he took his last breath. I never imagined I would say goodbye to him so quickly. Who am I kidding? I never really said goodbye. I still feel our love every day and I know he is still taking care of me from up above. One day I’ll see him again but we can’t go backward (even though I’d give anything for just one more day.)
I returned to Rutgers University after a semester off and struggled for the next two years. I wanted to quit school most days. I promised Jacob I would finish, so I did. I wasn’t the best student but I did the best I could at the time. I had significant support from the Mountainview Community. My fellow formerly incarcerated classmates helped me in ways they probably will never understand. I am grateful for all of them. The best part was showing my incredible family and Jacob’s that I could make them proud of me. Despite the struggles, I graduated in May of 2017.
Amazing things happened in 2017! Jacob’s twin brother Pierce and his wife Tara had a beautiful son Jacob Emory (named after my Jacob) on Halloween night. Waiting on his arrival, I was flooded with happiness. I got to hold Jacob Emory just hours after he was born. I never knew how you could love a child instantly but at that moment I truly understood.
I moved back to my hometown after graduation with hopes of finding a great job and finding one quickly. I am laughing as I write that because I was so naive. I underestimated the struggle of finding employment with a criminal record. The countless failed interviews and job applications didn’t help my confidence much. I was faced with the huge realization that even with the removal of the felony question on a job application in New Jersey, I wasn’t going to get a job in the corporate world. Don’t get me wrong, I was offered jobs but the offers were quickly rescinded as soon as my background check came back. My conviction prevented people from seeing my potential.
After nearly a year of applying to jobs I didn’t even care about, I changed everything. I reworked my resume, my LinkedIn page and focused on applying to positions that would embrace my background and help those left struggling behind the walls. This was the work I wanted to do, the work I knew I belonged in. I was finally given an interview at Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison and was hired three days later. I have never worked in a job that I can honestly say I love every single day. I love the work we do, the students we help, and I have the most incredible team to work with. I’m happy that the corporate world is judgy because I landed in a career path that I love, have a passion for and found myself exactly where I needed to be. I’m truly blessed.
The best part of being home has been hanging with my family. I feel like I was given a second chance at building better relationships with all of them. I know I have a stronger relationship with my brother Ryan and my sister Helena. And my parents, they are really cool people (who would have thought) I got to see my cousin Nicky at his best. He took me to his favorite spot, Jesus Rock. That day was one of my favorite days over the last five years. I had my cousin back. He was doing so amazing. He overcame so much adversity. When he took his own life on November 16th, 2018 it shook me to the core. He was so loved by all of our family and his girlfriend. I can’t understand how he didn’t know. His death taught me something else about love. You gotta show up. However that looks, you just have to love and show the love you have. You have to be real and transparent. My heart still hasn’t healed, I’m not sure it ever will. Nicky’s struggles are over but our families hearts are broken. His memories will live on with us although we would much rather have him by our side.
Five years ago I woke up in a prison, said goodbye to my friends and went home to live a better life. Back then, I could not picture this life. The tragedies and the blessings all made me who I am today. This past five years gave me the ability to know who I am in so many different situations. I’m still struggling to keep my grief at bay and learning how to thrive instead of just survive. I’ve gone through so much and I have survived serious tragedy since being free without alcohol to cope through it. I’m proud of where I am today and wherever I end up in the next five years I hope I continue to grow and learn and love. Life is crazy but we are lucky enough to live it!
Five years, five lessons:
- Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of love. Say their names. Talk about them.
- We have an awesome ability to deny what our intuition is screaming at us. Stop pretending you can’t hear it and trust your intuition.
- Be honest and transparent with those who you love. And say I love you as often as you can. You never know which I love you will be the last here on earth.
- Align your passion and your career. You’ll work harder but you’ll be totally fine with it because you love it.
- Self-care is a daily activity and vital to success. This is a lesson I’m just starting to understand but I already know it is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned.
Make it count.