The Queen of My Self

by Teresa Christine

It was a bright sunny day nearly twenty-two years ago when I had my freedom snuffed out like a candle. The day that I was arrested was the beginning of a new journey into unchartered waters. After almost three years in the county jail awaiting trial, and eventually sentencing, I was shipped along with my mother to the Central California Women’s Facility to serve a 25 years-to-life sentence in the death of my abusive stepfather.

Prison is a system that takes everything away from you that it possibly can, but you can elect to retain two things: your sense of integrity and identity. I believe my sense of identity has changed for the better over the years, sculpturing me into a more confident woman and a work in progress that is no longer ashamed of her mirror’s reflection.

As a child, I saw my stepfather as a beast, but in prison, the beast can be the very system itself. While there are a lot of people here that I wouldn’t want watering my lawn, there are a good many that I’d have over for dinner. Regardless of which one crosses your path, in prison or in life, there is always a lesson to be learned. I’ve learned more about myself in the personal relationships that I’ve had, than I’ve ever learned in any book. Other people in your life will bring out the true being of your “Self”. It takes courage to observe and embrace what manifests–good or bad–and learn from it. Knowledge is what you gain; don’t fear it, for it is your friend on this journey.

When I entered state prison I had very little self-esteem. I had always had my kindness taken for weakness, and my first year here wasn’t much different. I learned how to say the word, “No” as my first step toward self-preservation, healing, and self-discovery. I learned that it is okay to be a little selfish with my time and to visit the theater of my soul. I learned that scars fade even if memories don’t. However, the most vital lesson I learned was that the abuse was not my fault, and that I had the ability to take back the power I had lost, even if not the innocence. I learned that we are all capable of blossoming in the off-season. I chose to do just that.

In 1995 I began working with youth-at-risk in a prison diversion program. I saw my younger self in the faces of those kids, and I knew their pain. By telling my story, I encouraged them to tell theirs. I lost count of how many police reports I helped file to save the life of a child. The work didn’t just help me find my voice, but to nurture it. I began conducting presentations in the Educational Department on the subject of abuse and violence prevention and non-violent resolution. There’s a great sense of relief, growth, and accomplishment in knowing that you’re helping others. I cannot express enough what a sense of gratitude I have in being used as a tool for a bigger purpose by a power greater than myself.

I guess it would be fair to say that it took coming to prison to dump my self-pity, grasp my past as something I could never hope to change, and to see that I’m not defective. This prison sentence helped me choose to heal the open wound that I had become. I grew up in prison, and I worked on who I was, to become who I am. The only bars that held me back were the negative thoughts within myself. I am free of that inner prison now, but only because of this manmade one that confines me. Believe it or not, prison can be a sanctuary of healing. It removes one from the roots of pain, and makes them tend the garden of the own being. Today, my garden of life flourishes with vibrant colors……and I have never felt more alive. The first step is the hardest, but each one thereafter gets easier, and your make a really good friend along the journey–A friend called Self. Bon Voyage!

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to



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