By Sophia Cristo
Many people believe it’s a cruel world; i happen to agree. not only is it different, it’s more cruel behind four slabs of brick and an endless outline of barbed wire. It’s like walking into your worst nightmare, but you can’t wake up. I was trapped in my nightmare for eight years, when something stirred me awake.
I’ve always believed in God and went to church as a child, but when others mentioned a personal relationship with God, I always wondered what that meant. Well, let me backtrack a little bit for you. But before I do, let me ask a question. What were you doing when you were 14 years old? Starting high school? Cheerleading? Joining the football team? Well, at 14, I was wrapping my mind around spending the rest of my life in prison. I had barely lived any life at all, and now I was told this was it? When I was younger, life wasn’t great, nor did I have any parental guidance. When I was 13, I was in a toxic relationship with an older guy. I soon found myself in jail: confused, scared, and feeling more alone than ever.
I hadn’t had a chance to start wondering about anything in life, such as my goals and dreams, and now my life appeared over before it had even started. All my hopes and dreams were shattered. How could I possibly accept never going home? Never being with my family again? Never graduating high school, going to prom or making memories with friends? Never falling in love, being a mother, or having a home of my own? One day dying sur- rounded by strangers in a dark, cold prison instead of my own home sur- rounded by those who loved me? How could I accept all this when I didn’t understand any- thing that was happening to me or around me? A thousand terrifying, heart- breaking thoughts raced through my head, along with never ending unanswered questions of why.
No one imagines they’ll end up in jail. There’s no possible way to mentally or emotionally prepare for the turmoil you will face; however, your spirituality can get you through it all. As humans, we have survival instincts, and one of those includes adapting to our surroundings.
We get used to being without our loved ones, sleeping on what most would never call a bed, having someone lock us in a cell, getting used to someone monitoring and controlling every move we make. Even though we know our freedom is just on the other side of that brick wall, so close yet so far, a feeling of helplessness that once engulfed us has become a secondary feeling that we’ve grown to accept, ignore, or suppress. We don’t choose, nor do we like this numb feeling; it just happens. It’s a way of surviving and getting through the struggle of heartache. I’ve watched my loved one’s lives pass by, while my life has felt as if it’s been on pause. Friends grew up, relatives got married, there were new additions to my family, and sadly a few I lost that I didn’t get to say goodbye to. One of the worst parts of being incarcerated is people can actually compare it to death. In the beginning, every- one’s crying and missing you, wishing it didn’t happen, wanting to just spend time with you again, reminiscing about the last moment they spent with you. They grieve in a way, but after a while, just like us, they get used to it. Our absence becomes normal, our name is no longer familiar, our face missing from pictures. It’s a survival instinct for them as well, because those who love us are doing this time with us.
Being around strangers, especially girls, 24/7 is pretty trying, especially when you’re young. We’re odd, emotional and hard-to-understand creatures. We put up with each other’s attitudes and struggle with wondering who we can confide in. But we remind ourselves to stay strong during the hard times, especially when missing our loved ones.
One day, I decided to go to a creative writing class called “Inside Out Writ- ers” at the Juvenile Hall. I discovered my talent and love of poetry and creative writing. It eased a lot of emotional anxiety and pain and allowed me to see things differently.
I still have faults. I continue to deal with heartache, but the best part is I have God to turn to. I decided to make the best out of my situation and take advantage of every opportunity so I could better myself. I finished high school two years early. I held onto my faith, took job prep classes and even learned new life skills.
While awaiting sentencing, I heard about Proposition 57. I paid it no mind because I thought it wouldn’t apply to me. I started praying fervently, asking God to make away for me to go home in less than five years.
God answered my prayers. I went to court expecting to be sentenced as an adult, but then my lawyer and the judge started talking about Prop 57 and how it applied to my case. I won my transfer hearing and was sentenced as a juvenile. Now I’m at a Youth Correctional facility, and I will be home in less than two years.
My nightmare lasted eight years.
It was a long fight. Yes, I may have spent my youth incarcerated, but honestly I believe it made me a better per- son. I don’t think I’d be the amazing, strong person I am today, had I not been through this. I’m going to college and learning how to do computer coding and programming, which I would like to do when I am released.
I wanted to share my story to let people know: yes it’s hard in here, and we face a lot of challenges, but we overcome them. We’re not the labels that society places on us. We are unbreakable, resilient people that have a lot to share with this world if given the chance. I have a very bright future to look forward to because I’m not hold- ing onto my past. I will be a lawyer one day. I will actually be able to relate to my clients with all that they are facing. Considering what I’ve faced, I’ll be more motivated to fight for them. I refuse to wear the label society tried to give me, especially when it was the wrong one.
If you look closely and carefully, you’ll notice that out of TRAGEDY comes TRIUMPH. My name is Sophia Cristo, and I hope my story impacted you and your outlook on life in the most positive way.