I have a personal stake in this question. I do not want to live under the stigma of prisoner forever. To be a convicted criminal means I am ostracized and outcast from normal society. It means that while I belong in the category “Incarcerated” I am less than. When I get out I belong in the category “Felon” which carries the same weight.

But what if I changed? As in, I no longer have the characteristics, personality traits, or morals (or lack of) of the person who committed the crime nearly a decade ago. I have spent almost 8 years in nonstop, continuous cognitive behavioral therapy and educational programming. I have learned a lot.

-An Associates degree in Business Management, 90 credits
-Computer Programming Certificate, 44 credits
-Facilitator of Redemption Self-Awareness, Mentor ship and Acquired Communication Skills, Facilitator’s classes
-Co-wrote and co-facilitated Coping With Incarceration workshop, weekly
-Anger Management, Compassion-Focused Therapy
-Thinking 4 a Change
-Meditative Yoga
-Founded an LGBT support group
-Made U.S. history on 6/30/2016 when we had the nations first DOC sanctioned formal Pride event in the prisons visit room
-Learned to draw, bead, quilt
-Lost over 100 pounds
…just to name a few things

I got more certificates than I can reasonably list and they are not just a stack of papers to me, each one means something specific. I remember every class I have taken because I took each one seriously. I dedicated my mental faculties to the underpinning goal of all of them.

I am not even recognizable from the person who came in here. I do not think the same, but how do I prove that? Prove it so that you will interact with me, talk to me, become part of a support system that you may need just as much as I do. But I am not ashamed to say, I need you. I need a community to interact with for advice, friendship, support and, quite frankly, I need to be able to give those things in return. I am asking you allow me to act human, with you.

How do I convince you that I am equal and worthy of your friendship?

Read the piece titled “Who I am, I’m Pleased To Introduce…” if you want to know more about me and who I am.

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With Love
Jeff Jeffebelle Utnage
Soon to be Ruthie Anne Utnage, legally.