So Much More Than "Formerly Incarcerated"

January 26, 2020

Before April 2017, I truly believed that I was destined to either perish as a result of my addiction or spend my life in prison. I was a woman who’d been trapped in a cycle of drug use and incarceration for 20 years, and I had no idea how to get out of the mess I had made of my life. I’d faced incarceration in so many ways—from finding myself in and out of county jail, to my time in prison and finally state jail. I went to rehab a few times and eventually lost custody of my 3 children. I felt that I had nothing left to lose and that I would go on in the same cycle to the bitter end.

When I was released from state jail in December 2017, I was the same person as the day I went in. Nothing had changed except that I had one more felony and nowhere to go. The feeling of being released and not knowing how or if I would survive was all too familiar, and I was tired. I was sober, but I felt as if that was all I had going for me. After I found a center that accepted me in their program, I realized I had never appreciated basic human necessities so much. The women in the program offered clothes, simple hygiene products, and a place to sleep. This helped me focus on the underlying issues that were causing me to self-medicate.

Having a support system and people who believed in me helped me gain hope that change was possible. Finally having resources gave me opportunities that put me on a different path. I had time to work on the real problem without fighting the battle for housing and employment immediately after release. I had a cushion to transition back into life and learn how to live. The people surrounding me made me feel that I didn’t have to live in that destructive cycle anymore.

Accepting the resources provided for me also gave me the opportunity to speak to women like me in the community. I was introduced to advocates who were, at one time, just like me. Now, I get daily inspiration from the many justice reform champions I have met on this journey. “Formerly incarcerated” is no longer the setback it was for me. The many men and woman who are out there raising voices for restorative justice are paving the way for people like me. I hope to do the same for others.

I am a Peer Policy Fellow with Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Three years ago, nobody would have believed that.

About the Author: 

Maggie Luna

Peer Policy Fellow

Maggie Luna is the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health Peer Policy Fellow for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, having joined the organization in early 2020. In her role, she is focused on creating advocacy opportunities for system-impacted Texans. A graduate of the Smart Justice Speakers Bureau at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Maggie hopes to pursue policy work focused on youth justice.