Here’s To Strong Women!
In honor of International Women’s Day, we are pleased to announce the winner of the 2017 Spring Poshified Scholarship!
But wait… there’s more!
Because the world needs more strong women everywhere, we are extending another scholarship to one more winner too! Tune in tomorrow for that post for the SECOND WINNER!
Without further ado… The first winner is:
I think you’ll agree with me when you read this amazing essay below, that Sarah encapsulates everything that makes a woman strong: overcoming adversity, making a better life for herself and family, and following the example of other strong women and lifting other women around her as well.
Wisdom Behind Bars
By: Sarah Zarba
Strength is resilience, and prison is full of resilient women. To me, the strongest and most impactful women in my life are the ones I met during the most difficult struggle of my life. Being a strong woman means having the courage to make mistakes, and the strength to rise again in spite of those mistakes. With insurmountable odds against them, the resiliency of the women I spent 1 year incarcerated with have motivated me to find my own strength and break through the barriers around my future success.
My journey from incarceration and overcoming addiction has taught me so many valuable lessons, and lead me to meet so many incredible people along the way. My story is not one of misfortune or placing blame on others. I made poor choices when I was a teenager, and these choices will follow me for the rest of my life, but that does not stop me—and should not stop anyone from living their dreams and chasing their passions.
The stereotypical belief that only “criminals” and “bad people” go to prison must be dispelled—there are over 70 million Americans that currently have some type of criminal record today. As you continue to read this essay about the women who have impacted my life in a positive way, I challenge you to think critically about reasons why women are being incarcerated, the limited resources women have access to that lead them to committing crime or staying with abusive partners, and the crazy possibility of second chances.
The first time I was in handcuffs, I was 14 years old. I was a textbook “problem child” and runaway girl. My parents did not know what to do with me, so they turned to the court for help. I was running away from home, which is not a crime—but the court placed me in detention because of my age. I never thought I’d become anything, I was kicked out of two high schools and hope dwindled down so low that by the time I turned 18 I started experimenting with drugs. By the time I turned 19 I was arrested and sent to jail. This was a very low point in my life, one that I never thought I’d overcome.
I didn’t speak to anyone when I first got to the facility. I was such a broken girl, completely hopeless, and I was so far down that I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I was ashamed of where and who I was. The first day, I had no extra clothes to wear at night (it was so cold and I was withdrawing from drugs) and a woman came to me gave me her blanket. She never even asked my name. For a while I wondered why she did that, and things continued to get stranger as the days grew into months. How could the women that society had written off as irredeemable be so kind to someone they don’t even know?
As my journey of incarceration continued, my relationships with these women continued to develop and blossom. They told me their stories, shared their regrets with me, and encouraged me to move forward with my life when I was released and never look back. They showed me pictures of their children, and grandchildren. They told me about the men in their life that had hurt them, the people in their lives that had hurt them. We prayed together. I still have the letters and notes that they gave me when it was time for me to be released. My favorite one read “Live your dreams”. Some women were facing more time than others, but all shared the same vital message with me and that was strength and hope. Hope for the future, regardless of how ugly the past or present is.
After almost a year behind bars, I emerged from jail and entered a program to continue my recovery from drugs. I learned so much about myself there, but the power and humanity of the women in the jail stayed with me. Their dreams and aspirations became the fuel that gave me strength on my journey toward pursuing higher education. I made a promise to myself that I would live a life of purpose when I was released. I felt unworthy of the second chance God had extended to me, when so many other women were still stuck behind bars. I vowed that I would tackle the issues that contributed to women being incarcerated. I vowed to break the stereotypes of “hardened criminals” that I had unexpectedly found to be untrue myself.
The first thing I did was find organizations that helped formerly incarcerated women enter college. I was willing to put in the work to obtain a degree, and I wanted so badly to learn and be a productive member of society. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in July 2016 in Criminal Justice and now I am a student at Columbia University pursuing my Master’s in Social Work. I also volunteer 2 times per month at the jail where I was incarcerated. I go back and run groups with women at the jail, and I share my story with them. If I can just let one woman know that she is not defined by her worst mistake, the same way that the women I met told me, then my struggle was worth it.
I earned my place in jail by making a huge mistake as a teenager. I also earned my place in an Ivy League University as an adult by putting in the work and sacrifice necessary to achieve my goal. Strength is resilience, and not one day passes that those women don’t cross my mind. Although I’ve lost touch with some, they’ve taught me that it’s ok to make mistakes, and that no one is beyond redemption.