Looking back a year ago, I would have never thought I’d be where I am today working with the Sheriff’s Department Women’s Re-entry Center doing an internship with Nextcourse Soul Food Project. This time a year ago, I weighed 240 pounds and was sitting in prison counting the days till I got out. I had little to no direction at this point in my life I just knew I was paroling to Walden House FOTEP treatment program. I didn’t have to go there but I knew that I was tired of living my life the way that I had and a serious change had to occur. Going to Walden House helped save my life. While there learning about my chemical dependency, I started attending 5 Keys Charter School at Treasure Island and there another miracle occurred in my life. I attended cooking school with Nextcourse and there the instructor, Rania Long, taught me about health and nutrition. I started reading labels, paid more attention to what I ate, stopped drinking soda and became a vegetarian. I also began to exercise regularly. I started feeling better about myself, had more energy and as the weight came off my self esteem increased. I learned so much there. I thought nothing was wrong with the way I was eating for so many years but now that I know I was sustaining off chemicals, sugars, fats, and carbohydrates which could have lead to heart disease or diabetes (which my sister has) or obesity, which was a close reality for me.
I applied for the internship with Nextcourse Soul Food Project in February and wasn’t very confident that I’d get the job because of all the bad choices I have made in my past that sent me to prison. I remember thinking: I’d never be able to work with the Sheriff’s Department. Why would they want to hire an ex-offender like myself? Well, here I am and so very grateful! As an intern I want to share with the women how important it is to intertwine nutrition and recovery. By bridging together relapse prevention and recovery with health and nutrition as a way of life we can feel good and look good doing it. So many women I know relapse to deal with their weight gain because using drugs is the only way we know how to lose weight. I’ve learned another way; eating healthy and exercising at least once a week. If I can pass that on to other women and it can help them like it’s helped me then I feel that I am giving back.
My first week as an intern was full of learning experiences. Shopping at the Farmers Market was extraordinary. It was amazing how much food we were able to buy for so many people for so little. Eating healthy really pays off it just takes a little work. I think the coolest thing about Women’s Night was seeing all the women I’ve been going through program with and some of the counselors from 5 Keys Charter School there to see my progress and to enjoy the food that I helped prepare as an intern. They were able to see that I was working, happy and healthy. The atmosphere here at the Women’s Re-entry Center is so warm and welcoming. I enjoy coming to work everyday. When I get home at night I go over my day and think about what I’ve learned so far, and wonder, what will I learn tomorrow?
To be an intern working at the Women’s Reentry Center has had a strong impact on the women that come here from the community and from jail. To see one of their fellow friends that has lived the life of hanging out and selling drugs inspires them to stop and take a look at what they are doing and do something different with their life, because I’ve been there and done everything that they have done and some continue to do. I’m proud to say that it feels good to look back at where I was and know what I want out of today life.
I never thought that I would be working in an environment with Police, Deputies, and Counselors as a team player fitting into all the good stuff that life has to offer on the other side of doing “RIGHT”. I went to jail for probation violation for sales. When I got arrested I wasn’t ready to stop selling drugs because it was easy for me to have money and do what I wanted to do. While being incarcerated I was away from my only daughter Leon-ay. This gave me a lot of time to myself to reflect long and hard where I really want to go and be when I return to society. It was a learning experience for me and I realized what’s important to me in my life. My priority is my daughter and my freedom, she is everything to me, it means a lot for me to stop, stand still, and let God be in control. I learned a few things during my incarceration while I attended 5 Keys Charter School. I learned about Restorative Justice and how to make amends to the people that you have hurt. I learned how to turn around what you were doing and come back into the community by helping out by being a productive part of the community who is held accountable for your actions. I have turned things around for the better and to see the change I’ve made makes me emotional and proud of myself.
I was so happy when I was given the opportunity to be on Home Detention. I was released early and was given a second chance to be a mom and do right for my only daughter. I promise that if I gotten the chance to go back I would do everything that I suppose to do. I got out of jail on September 11, 2008 learned about the cooking class at the Women’s Reentry Center. The staff at the WRC opened their arms and hearts to me and treated me like family. I met my case manager, Cynthia who has a very good spirit and right then I knew that I would be able to talk to her about anything that’s bothering me. I started coming to the Healthy Eating on A Shoestring cooking class with Niyati in October. I have been learning about Nutrition, how to be healthy and prepare healthy foods for myself and my family. When I met Niyati the cooking class teacher we hit it right off. She suggested I apply for the soul food internship. I was inspired to apply for this job when I interviewed Ramona Massey, a supervisor with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. She gave me the push that I really needed to believe in me. I’m very grateful to have her in my support circle because she believes in me as a person and as a woman. The day Niyati called me to tell me I was picked for the internship, I was overwhelmed with shock! I never thought that I would be working with the Sheriff’s Department and doing something that I love, which is cooking and making people smile while they enjoy what I’ve prepared for them.
As the intern, I teach women about the meals that we are preparing weekly. It makes me feel good to help someone that isn’t familiar with eating healthy and preparing healthy meals at home with their family. Our first week, we were asked to cater the Women’s Night for 100 people!! It was such a joy and emotional time for me because so many ladies in treatment were seeing me do something different with my life and free time. I became emotional when a song my sister and I used to listen to began to play. My sister was killed on February 23, 2008. It was sad to remember the good times that we use to have in the past, but it brought joy thinking how proud she’d be of me. It was a good night because everyone enjoyed the food and saw that we put our hearts into our first catering gig. Hopefully I will experience many more events like this again soon.