After eight years of anticipation, the time has finally come. I graduated from the Arouet TOPS (Transforming Our Possibilities) from inside the Arizona Department of Corrections at Perryville, Santa Cruz Unit. The graduation was filled with many emotions and the realization that it’s finally my turn to leave the place I’ve called home for close to a decade: prison.

Arouet is a non-profit organization founded by Televerde in 2016. (Learn about Televerde here.) The foundation empowers women coming out of corrections with the skills and resources they need to successfully reenter society as leaders, caregivers, innovators and business professionals. The Arouet TOPS program is designed to prepare incarcerated women for reentry back into their families and communities.

Prior to attending the TOPs program, I was anxious and filled with worries.

  • Am I ready to reenter a changed world and face a magnitude of choices, new technologies, and a new way of living? (Remember, when I left I rented DVDs from Blockbuster, wrote checks to pay bills and used USB thumb drives to save files!)
  • Will I remember how to drive? (What if I get scared and have a meltdown on the freeway?)
  • How do I go from not having any choice in prison to a world where choices tend to overwhelm? Everything from what to eat to what brand of products to purchase.
  • How do I begin to repair my credit, knowing I neglected my responsibilities during incarceration and now I’m starting at ground zero?
  • Where will I live?
  • Who will hire me?
  • And, of course, how will I address my felony background during job interviews?

Throughout the last six months, though, I was lucky enough to be a part of the TOPS program, which would help me find answers to all these questions. The modules cover a wide range of essential topics such as self-awareness, expectations & limitations, life skills, education, resiliency, substance abuse, addiction, relationships & support, finance, and preparing for release. They also have an employment module, which includes resume writing, career readiness, interviewing skills and mock interviews. These modules are the pieces of the reentry puzzle that have given me the hope, confidence and a pathway for success.

The self-awareness module made a lasting impression on me. I learned that attitudes, beliefs, and values are the core of who I am. As Elvis Presley once said, “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s is the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”

Excellence, generosity, self-control, accountability, commitment, humility, integrity, and diversity are the values and beliefs that I hold close to my heart. Through self-reflection and discovery, which is a part of Arouet’s program, I finalized my personal statement:

“To live each day with open-mindedness, commitment, and thoughtfulness, so that I may gain wisdom, compassion and love for those I come in contact with.”

One of the inspirational videos we watched, Brené Brown- Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count, taught me that vulnerability is the willingness to do something without guarantee of return and to invest in relationships that might or might not work. Essentially, vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, trust, empathy, creativity, and innovation. Without it, you can’t create. The way to live is vulnerability, letting go of control and predictions will lead me to opportunities and newfound understandings.

Piece by piece, Arouet’s TOPS program completed my reentry puzzle, and all my concerns and worries faded from view. Arouet provides a platform for women just like me to talk through each issue. Everything from motivational videos, journaling, workshops, etc. is geared towards helping to prepare us to reenter society. And best of all, they’ll stay actively engaged with me after my release for two years, providing me with job placement and an active network of community and mentorship support. More than that, they reinforce that I am strong enough to succeed on the outside. I entered prison alone but I’m leaving with a team of champions who are all rooting for me to thrive post-release. What a gift this has been. Imagine that…having a prison sentence turn out to be a positive!

Today, my heart pounds with excitement because I know that I’m prepared for and ready to conquer life’s challenges, and I welcome every opportunity that’s ahead on the other side of the fence. The Arouet TOPS program has touched so many women’s lives, including mine. Thank you to Arouet for caring enough to create and execute a successful TOPS program that provides hope, support and resources before and after release. One thing I know with certainty is that I’m not alone on this journey, for I know my Arouet supporters are only one phone call away.