The stories on these pages were written by women at the Minnesota Correctional Facility - Shakopee. They were previously published in The Reflector, the prison's quarterly newsletter. Reprinted with permission.

The story of one left behind by G. R.
I am a 36-year-old American woman who does not have the freedom that countless American soldiers died for me to have. I'm told when to eat. I'm confined to my room at 9:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. each day. I don't have a choice about what I wear. I don't have the right to stand up to someone in authority who talks down to me as if I were an ignorant, burdensome child.

I put myself in this place, Shakopee women's prison. I've broken the law over the years and now I'm serving the sentence I was given. What I have done has shaped my loved ones. I let them down. My actions hurt many who believed in and trusted me. My crimes have affected families, children, parents, employers, co-workers, friends, communities and businesses.

I remember arriving here for the first time about three years ago. I was shackled at my wrists and ankles. I wore an oversized, navy blue mechanic's-looking coveralls with a bright orange shirt under it. My head hung low. I wasn't able to look anyone in the eye because I was just another guilty statistic added to the system.

We are not saints. We are just a bunch of hurting, broken people looking for a way to put the pieces of our lives back together again. We found that way in Jesus Christ. Some days we'll have our ups. Some days we'll have our downs. Christian or not, this is what real life is all about.

It's not a picnic in the I.F.I. program (InnerChange Freedom Initiative). We work hard and put in a lot of time. It isn't easy to take a detailed look at all the things in your past that slowly destroyed you - the things we've spent so long getting obliviously high or black-out drunk to forget. It isn't easy to face yourself when you were at your worst and have to share those things out in the open for people to see and hear, things you couldn't even tell your family.

It takes brutal honesty, courage, strength, patience and vulnerability to do this program right. I was able to share the many physical and sexual abuses of my past here. The other women in the program helped me to get to that point. I have helped them get there, too.

I've watched them fall to pieces. I've watched them rise above trials such as family deaths, accidents and child custody issues. I've seen my sisters handle these situations with so much strength and dignity. They've overcome their difficulties in here, along with the hardships that came from their families out there, completely sober. By seeing them persevere, I know I could make it through all of my own hardships, too.

The women I speak of are my I.F.I. sisters. We've bumped heads. We've raised our voices in disagreement at each other. We got on each other's nerves. But we came together to support, to love, to forgive and to lift each other up when it mattered most. The I.F.I. women, the program, the staff and the living unit have all become a "home away from home" for so many of us.

Doing BIG time by C. J.
When I came to Shakopee women's prison I was unstable, angry, hateful, insecure, co-dependent, bitter, complicated and selfish. I had no respect for authority. I was disrespectful to others.

I've been locked up for 12 years. I am in no way prepared to leave here, even after completing treatment, getting my GED and completing over 40 groups. I've lost family members that were very close to me and I never got a chance to say goodbye. That takes a toll on me. I've kept so much bottled up through the years, there is no more room inside me for any more pain. I have no outlet. This place changes a person and it's not always for the good. Now the thought of leaving with no structure or rules, and having bills to pay and total responsibility for myself? I'm scared to death to leave here.

Human beings need order in able to function. Order in our everyday lives, relationships, jobs, careers, family, values and surroundings -this is all I know. I lost my identity on Oct. 8, 2003 - that's when I became a number and no longer a person.

Our thinking is an accumulation of beliefs and habits, attitudes and expectations, that we acquire during our growing up in our surroundings. If our surroundings are limited, that's what's going to carry us through life, and our results will also be limited.

I have implemented goals and dreams for myself, but each time I try to achieve, the door is closed. After so much trying, I start to feel like a failure. Trying to accomplish these things gets old, and when you add living in a negative environment, it can rub off on a person. It's so darn hard to stay positive here. The breakdowns and the fear of leaving have finally started to set in. There are lots of excuses and rationalizations for giving up accountability, but I know by watching and listening to what others say [that] I can learn by example to get through these obstacles.

Being and living around positive people is the key for me. I know others here who have it way worse than me and my heart goes out to them. But I also know what it's like to walk around here with a target on my back, being denied certain programs and certain living units, all because of the nonsense I did in the past. So with all this negativity and gossip that everyone else wants to feed into, I say let them have it, because there are more important things to focus on in our lives and at home.

Transition story by T. K.
I'm serving a five-year sentence for second-degree intentional murder. When I first arrived at Shakopee women's prison, I was bitter, broken and full of pain. I was not accepting of my sentence, nor of being away from my life and children. I didn't know how to feel or share how I was feeling. My attitude and behaviors showed I was in a negative state of mind and I suffered through many days in segregation for it.

I was wanting something different for myself and I knew I needed to change my thinking patterns. So I applied for I.F.I. (InnerChange Freedom Initiative) and entered the program. I only lasted seven months because I allowed grief and loss to take over my state of being. I signed off. Again, I was allowing myself to become powerless over facing my pain and experiences; I took the easy way out. I was steadfast in my old habits - not taking ahold of my past and dealing with it in a mature manner.

I got my GED in two and a half months, then moved on to Transitions to College. I got my math and reading scores up high enough to enter the Office Support program. I graduated eight months later with a specialized certificate.

My progress was going at a steady pace. I was then called to the Changing Paths treatment program for a 12-month chemical dependency and behavior modification program. I had no idea what this program meant for me, but something inside me said, "Things are about to get real." I'm going to be honest with myself and you, readers; I didn't like the program or the rules. I struggled to see the purpose behind most of the accountability papers we had to fill out. I also didn't agree with all the information that I had to relive over and over again.

Here's the blessing in this. All that I went through - every contract and even a suspension - taught me that I was not humble enough. I was still fighting a war that only existed in my soul and my memory. Five and a half months into the program, I threw my hands up and said, "I'm too grown to be carrying around old baggage!" And at that moment, I stopped my negative thinking about my past and I got real. I worked the 12 steps and asked God to help me along the way.

Treatment has calmed me down, helped me to look at the battles I was fighting and ask if they were worth the fight. Making mature choices is a battle in itself daily, but when you have the ability to stop your negative thinking and redirect it in a positive manner, treatment then becomes a much better place to be. That is what treatment in Shakopee has taught me.

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