Yes, working in prisons isn't for the faint of heart. It takes a certain type of person to be there on a daily basis. For me, it was one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my career. In addition to that, I always tell people (mostly for people of color) if they have any interest in working in prisons don't do it. Well, don't do it unless you are fully aware of what you're getting into AND you've got a strong self care plan, fully loaded with resources and allies inside & outside of the facility.
When I first started working in juvenile justice facilities I knew what I was good at. And that was to reach and teach environmental education to "high risk" youth populations. What I didn't know was that I was experiencing compounded trauma by placing myself in these situations. Let me be more explicit about what I mean by compounded trauma.
As a woman of color working in direct service to said communities, it wasn't until I left my last non-profit where I was now able to observe a more privileged white woman doing a very similar job of educating in prison. After being an observer to her facilitation, I realized just how traumatizing it had been for me to have done this kind of work as a conscious (woke) woman of color. During her facilitation I noticed that when the dialogue from one student touched on a statement about the actual system of oppression that prisons represented, she listened, but her response redirected the dialogue to focus on something more superficial. I can't remember what she started talking about specifically, but I knew that was the point of difference for me. And I was triggered by that. I felt the dialogue was shut down, that the student wasn't validated or nurtured in their beliefs about "the system" and there was no space to continue to dialogue around that.
I started to sense that unlike her, (with checked assumptions here) who she can do the J-O-B, be in these facilities with these communities, then go back home to something different. I couldn't do that. I didn't have the privilege of putting my blinders on whenever, to not find commonality with my students in the way I looked, maybe the ways in which I grew up and had similar lived experiences and emotions as my students, etc... Then on top of that, I had to go home and wonder why there was so much trash on my streets and broken down cars, why did another kid got shot at the corner store?, why is it such a struggle to just get ahead in life?...
I realized then, thatI worked in trauma,
"walked the streets" in trauma,
and I went home to trauma.
I had no rest.
The serendipitous part of that moment was that I finally came into a reconciliation about the differences between privileged white folks working in these communities and my own identity as a POC doing the same work.
I was more prone to being re-traumatized while on the job
But on my long drive home from that observation I came into that knowing. I said to myself, hey the men in that facility have gained so much growth, healing, and a safe place to process that I can't disregard that. If she, (privileged white woman) can do it, handle it, continue to proceed after so many years, then good for her! She's able to facilitate and impact these men and this program needs to keep it going! So, now that I reached that reconciliation, I had to make my next move. How then, would I continue to do the things I'm good at and loved to do while still working with my community WITHOUT getting re-traumatized? First,
I needed to find a way to END my own daily
CYCLE of trauma
I needed to begin my own HEALING
So what were my first steps in this journey?
Gather (get a hold of) myself
Gather my tribe of support
Figure out what needed to be healed
During that specific time in my life where I was in that prison observing this woman, I had just gotten laid off from my last position. And that lay off didn't go down as a mutual agreement in any way. I was emotionally vulnerable and I felt a little lost, mostly defeated. Still I held my ground and trusted that there was a bigger purpose for me. And that there must be something behind the pattern of losses and frustrations of working in non-profit environmental organizations. I was reminded from a good friend that I couldn't possibly take on all of the blame for how things turned out for me; that there are always those components of this system at play here.
So in trying to figure out what needed to be healed, I doubled down on figuring out where I needed to be next. I continued working with a small and special group of women as a support system to heal daily as well as to develop my spiritual awareness, I engaged fully in my coaching certification program and utilized our practice sessions to address these specific pain points, and I asked for more of myself to just surrender to my spiritual path as a healer.
No doubt its constant work, learning, and growth.
But my everything and every part of me is affirmed every time I'm with a client
or out with a group on a healing hike; I'm now walking my path.
I say this to many of my clients in exploration and wonder around what is next. I say, pay more attention to the things that bring you light, levity, and fulfillment. Those are the places you want to go towards. And for those places that aren't so bright, maybe they are darker in feeling, they are places of hurt or bad feelings AND approach them head-on and ask in the most direct way, "What are you here to teach me?"
THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO READ MY STORY. IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PIECE, PLEASE SHARE WITH OTHERS AND JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION BY COMMENTING BELOW!
MEET THE COACH
Raynelle Rino, CPC
A long time social sector professional, Raynelle began her career in the sciences as an ecology field researcher then moved onto environmental education and social justice at the grassroots organizational level in the Bay Area. Her love for nature and youth development brought her to teach in unique settings like alternative high schools, environmental justice neighborhoods, parks, and juvenile justice facilities.
In 2016 Raynelle started Rino Consulting Solutions, a nature-based consulting firm that provides coaching and consulting services for professionals and other businesses. It’s mission is to support and inspire the leaders of today to live in the confidence of their identities as they move through a world in the midst of social, racial, and environmental transformation. Raynelle is a graduate of Humboldt State University with a BS in Biology, a Rising Leaders and 2042 Today fellow, and lives in Oakland with her husband and daughter.