An Incarceration Primer: Always Lessons To Be Learned

Advice and encouragement from JustUS Voices storyteller Cheryl Ward.

An Incarceration Primer: Always Lessons To Be Learned


This is my teaching guide to share that prison, for women, is NOT what you’ve seen on TV. I’ve never watched an episode of “Orange Is the New Black” but, prior to that show capturing the interests of many, the portrayal of prison on television and in movies, added to the factor of FEAR!!!

But listen to this—when you arrive in prison you find out that the others there are part of the human race, they are somebody’s children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers or neighbors.

Incarceration, the state of being confined in prison; imprisonment.

How do you become incarcerated?

One is found guilty of being a participant of a crime which warrants confinement.

One is the spouse of a person who has been found guilty of being a participant of a crime which warrants confinement—therefore you might have been found guilty by association

Being incarcerated can bring on many unsettling feelings.

Fear, caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous or a threat that is likely to cause pain. Shock, a sudden upsetting event or experience. Devastation, great destruction or damage. Horror, an intense feeling of shock, or disgust.

You have every right to feel those feelings and more, if you’ve never experienced incarceration you are about to enter into unknown territory. While you may have known someone who was incarcerated, the LIVE/PERSONAL experience is something which will affect your life forever. It also touches the lives of children, parents, siblings, relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

But here’s the good news.

Incarceration is a community, I call it a World Inside the World. The effect incarceration will have on you, is ALL up to you.  For me, the reality of incarceration is to come out better than you were when you went in!!! You’re going to be away from family, friends and responsibilities. Take the time to do something for yourself. My suggestion, since you’ll still have control of your mind and your mindset, is to learn something new and do it EVERYDAY!!!

Of course, if you’re able, you’ll work—no doubt, doing a job you’d NEVER do otherwise. I’ve seen women who have two master’s degrees be given jobs cleaning toilets. One learns to do their given job because this is a place where who and what you were on the outside really has no bearing because we’re ALL here for something the courts decided was wrong. So, here are a few things you might do while you’re away—by yourself.

Get to know yourself, let go of things that are baggage, then learn to BE GRATEFUL and FORGIVE yourself and others.

Write your children, family members and friends, those who encouraged you. Those you’ve been meaning to say thank you to.

Learn new words and use them. Become an authority on a subject you’re already familiar with or one you’re always been curious about. Start keeping a journal, this will help with the frustration you will surely experience.

Walk, run, stretch, take up yoga— just exercise.

Find your creative side. Learn how to knit, crochet, or make cards or paper! Write a book or screenplay. Learn to draw, paint, or sculpt.

Read books, magazines and newspapers. Teach a class, talk to others, encourage them, or learn another language or two.

Add to this list as you see fit. My final thought for you is this one.

Cry, if you must, this is a sad situation. But don’t cry long, utilize your MEMORIES and use time and energy to do something positive—EVERYDAY.


Cheryl Ward, 61, is a full-time caregiver to her aging mother who provided care and sustenance to her young son while Cheryl served nearly 18 years of a federal sentence on drug conspiracy charges.