Mental Freedom After Incarceration: My Journey Self-acceptance

5 Min Read

When I was sentenced to seven years in prison, I had no idea what I would do with my life after my period of incarceration. My life was filled with abuse, addiction, and crime. Trying to become gainfully employed and make a livable wage became one of my greatest challenges post-prison. In my hometown, there were 210 professions I could not even participate in solely based on my criminal record. I had lost my dignity, had zero self-esteem, and felt stuck. After some serious self-reflection about the reality of the situation and having so many natural barriers, I recognized the greatest block was my own way of thinking. I had to ask myself: what do I have, and what can I do with what I have?

Having that difficult conversation with myself proved to be the turning point for me. What do I have? I had to make a list and take inventory of all of my qualities and characteristics. Not the external but the internal. I'm embarrassed to say that I struggled with this list a bit. Literally I could think and write the word "smart," and it was like a voice in my head responded, "If you were so smart, how did you end up doing something so stupid?" One by one, I wrote the words through all of the negative chatter and finally had the left side of the page full. The next list on the right was all of the things I could do with the things on the list on the left. I had two rules to this list. 1. Write whatever comes to mind first 2. Pretend you have NOTHING in your way. Now this list was pretty empowering. Just looking at how having a "sense of humor" on the left could be used to "cheer people up" on the right made me feel great or how "doing nails" on the left could be used to "make others look and feel beautiful." Lastly, I picked apart the list and made as many combinations as possible to identify which ones I could use to earn a real living.

My life still had great value, despite what I had done or where I had been.

Instead of accepting defeat and allowing the limits society placed on me determine my life and my future, I forged my own path, and I found success through a new way of thinking and a fresh approach on how to move forward.

After you find your strengths, now what? Eat, sleep, and breathe it, then repeat. Literally, you have to immerse yourself in all of the positive things, grow your gratitude, and give yourself grace. I equate it to planting a seed, watering it, and watching it grow. This is not an overnight process, however, with patience and persistence, you WILL see the fruit begin to peek its head through the soil that once represented struggle. It is now the foundation for growth. I couldn't wait for someone to ask me to describe myself. What was once a shallow external description encompassing my race, role, and title now became an internal script for my life that connected me directly to my purpose and profession. Acknowledging my strengths made me more confident and reminded me that I was more than what I had been through and what people SAW on the outside. I finally believed I could start a business and that it would be successful. Realizing that a traditional path of employment was not a place for me, I had to be creative in finding what direction would allow me to find actual success and provide a rich and fulfilling life. I looked at what my strengths and skills were and used those to sculpt my future.

One of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself was permission to live beyond my past.

I was skilled at doing nails, and I had the gift of gab. I started with telling some friends, "Get a few ladies together, and I will do everyone's manicure and pedicure." I started by utilizing what I had. I went from traveling from door to door with a basket of supplies from under the bathroom sink and then evolved my business into a mobile spa business quickly booking enough parties to recruit other spa professionals and create the demand for events in other cities. I refused to be a minimum wage employee and, as a result, founded the Pamper Perfect Mobile Spa which became the on-location, girls' night in, fun and sophisticated spa party that women were craving at home.

I learned that living through trauma at any age molds how one thinks of themselves, especially about how valuable or worthy they are (or are NOT) as a person. I often say my entire birth and upbringing were traumatic. I lived with the label of being abandoned by being adopted. I held very little value on my mere existence in this world. I always felt as if I didn't belong. When I became incarcerated, I recognized how little value I placed on my life when I traded it for freedom. We misplace value on people and places. If something has value, it is useful and important. When you spend your life fighting to get people to acknowledge your worth and value, you are always seeking someone else to deem you as worthy. I can't even tell you how many times people gave up on me or declared me hopeless. If I was going to change my life and be more than mediocre, I had to determine my own worth. One of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself was permission to live beyond my past. I ate, slept, and breathed the mantra, "What others think of me is NOT my business." I started to reflect on all of my qualities in a positive way. Over time, I developed a healthy, more positive way of thinking of myself and what I was capable of despite my past mistakes or my flaws. I learned to accept ALL of my life as experiences that led me to be a better person. My life still had great value, despite what I had done or where I had been. Realizing that I was in control and that I determined my worth was a pivotal point in changing my life.

Despite what many say, some bridges need to be burned. It forces a different path.

Mindset is one of the key factors in creating lasting change in your behavior which ultimately can change your life. The first thing you must do is remove your "mask of sanity." You must acknowledge that things aren't going the way you had hoped and need to admit your "stinkin thinkin" played a part. Think about it, you've already read the books, attended the workshop, and been to that amazing weekend retreat in hopes to change your life. You got all pumped up to take action and change your life, and still you find yourself stuck. That's because our minds create habitual patterns that we walk out in our daily lives, and eventually we are back to our old ways. You must close the gap. Without a mindset shift, the gap between where you are and where you want to be is too large to take the leap. One must dive into all of the thoughts and beliefs you have surrounding your goal. The idea of finding true love and even building a six-figure income was something I really wanted, but the truth is, deep down, I didn't believe I could do it or even deserved to have it. As long as you do not fully believe in ANYTHING you want, you will never see the changes you really want in your life.

In order to change my mindset, I needed to develop a system for myself to daily practice positive speaking and thinking and believe in its power. The more I practiced, the more I experienced it in my life. I became totally sold on the idea that through my thoughts, I created my own reality, and whatever I paid attention to or put focus on would grow. So instead of burying my head in the sand of guilt, shame, and defeat, I constantly immersed myself in activities and tasks that drew me closer to what I really wanted for myself. After a while, I expected it, and it continually showed up. I am always going back to focusing on what I have (abundance) as opposed to what I don't have (lack). You attract what you put out in the world, and you should use this power to work for you and not against you.

Realizing that I was in control and that I determined my worth was a pivotal point in changing my life.

Experiencing hardships taught me three things: to be authentic, empathetic, and forgiving. This is what helped me to see challenges in my life as lessons I could not have learned any other way. That acceptance shifts the idea of hardship and challenges to allies as opposed to viewing them as roadblocks where all progress is halted. A more positive spin on any circumstance changes the narrative, leading to a more positive outcome. Anyone looking to overcome hardships must see their adversity as an advantage. Everything I had been through in my life led me to the place I am today, and my GRIT got me there. Use the word "no" as an opportunity to find another resource. Despite what many say, some bridges need to be burned. It forces a different path. Believe your YES is out there. I knew I could not survive with a minimum wage job being a single mom of two. Many people thought I should have just been grateful for having a job, but I wasn't. I no longer wanted mediocrity, and I was determined to let nothing stand in my way. I had to accept responsibility for showing up and leading my own life. All of the things people told me I needed to be successful in business, I did not have, so I focused on what I did have. By changing my mindset and taking control of my life, I went from earning the prison labor wage of 22 cents an hour to being the CEO of my own company. Realizing great success in my own life inspired me to help others that have found themselves trying to navigate the challenges they have found themselves faced with. I now work with professional women who struggle with life's setbacks, and I help them break free from their mental prison so they can experience true freedom in their lives and business. Once I learned how to reshape my mindset to change my life, it became my mission to help others do the same.

5 min read

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.