I’ve never been incarcerated, but I did work at the House of Detention for Men at Rikers Island as a Prison Legal Assistant from 1982 to 1983, immediately after graduating from college. It was the most challenging and eye-opening job I’ve ever held and it significantly altered my views about people behind bars. But this story is not about me or my beliefs. It’s about Missie (above left with Nero, a service dog who Missie helped to train). Missie has been incarcerated since 2010. She found us by way of her friend Lisa (above right with Missie) and is now a certified Punk Rope Instructor by virtue of completing our home study course and acing the multiple choice exam. I’m going to shut up now and let Missie do the talking. The following essay was written by Missie less than two weeks ago. We’ve reprinted it in its entirety. We wish her the best of luck.
I used to be a runner. I have no hard feelings toward running—the sport taught me about discipline and perseverance, friendship and community, joy and grief. It also introduced me to a feeling of freedom in a world where freedom is a word only whispered about.
I am currently incarcerated.
In 2010, I lost my worldly freedoms to incarceration. My life prior to prison looked good on the outside, but it wasn’t. I ended up making a terrible choice that placed me behind bars. At 30 years old, 255 pounds with poor physical health, I needed to make some changes. However, internally, I also needed repair and healing of the woman inside of me.
Running became a passion of mine, giving me a sense of internal freedom. As my physical body and physical health improved, I also gained the freedom to walk with self-confidence, self-reliance, and an unrelenting self-awareness. I gained the internal freedom to look at myself with unfaltering clarity, for better and for worse. And I began to heal.
As time passed behind bars, my passion for fitness expanded beyond running. I started taking yoga classes and I became interested in strength training. Ultimately in December of 2017 I became a certified fitness trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).
During my six months of testing my quest to expand my fitness pursuits and my journey towards internal freedom continued. And it continued with something I wasn’t very good at initially. I started to jump rope. The physical benefits (and challenges) of jump rope were apparent to me from the very beginning. The internal benefits have been shown to me along the way.
To push through the early (awkward) stages of jump rope, I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And I still practice! It took some time to be comfortable, but eventually I began instructing a jump rope class at the institution.
I envisioned a jump rope class to be something different than the other classes offered at the institution. I wanted something challenging (!) and fun (!) and I wanted lots of sweating (!) and cheering (!) and laughing (!) and I wanted lots of joy (!) and dance music (!) and black lights (!). At 8am on Sundays I can say my jump rope class has it all but the black lights 🙂
Through instruction of this very-early-highly-energized-jump-rope class, I found the internal freedom to be whom I ultimately was created to be—a person who is humbly motivating, encouraging, and uplifting for others. A woman who quietly makes a difference, sometimes very small, but those small differences ripple outwards.
My journey with fitness over the past seven years has taught me that improving the quality of my life has subsequently improved the quality of others’ lives. And that the impact we make on others matters above anything else. Sure, the calorie burn of a workout and rope jumping interval times matter, but never above the joy and empowerment and degree of personal choice they bring. I have learned that fitness is a lifestyle and that freedom is a mindset and that both of these things are conscious choices, liberating choices, that move us forward from the things that hold us back.