While vending, people will often give me the name of a person or organization that I should contact. Usually, I’ll forget the information I was told or sometimes I will reach out to no avail. On one occasion, the person I was speaking with at my vending table kept repeating the same name over and over. She said it so many times that I finally pulled out my phone and asked for the name and organization again. This time I was actively listening. “Jessica Jefferson with the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS).” The following week I emailed Jessica; she called me back. I pitched my children’s books because I saw ODYS has a program with young men reading to their small children on video. Jessica asked if I knew the population she works with; she explained she works with young incarcerated women who would, more than likely, receive maximum sentences for their offenses, if they were adults. So, I kept talking and pitched my books, “Keep the Peace” and “I SPaT.” Jessica offered to meet with me, and we scheduled to meet over coffee on January 1, 2018. What a great start to the new year.
Jessica and I hit it off immediately. She gave me a copy of her book, “What Mommy Doesn’t Know.” She explained how her manuscript came about and the gravity of the issue of child sexual assault perpetrated by other adolescents. I had my professional, not quite polished, presentation folder ready to go. I showed her my full catalog of books, taking more time with the two that would be more in line with the populace she serves and gave her those books to review the content. I shared a lot of my backstory as it would relate to the incarcerated young ladies – alcohol and drug addiction, early introduction to sexual activity, teen pregnancy, abortions, multiple arrests, limited job options due to police record, single motherhood, mental illness, poverty…
This prompted more questions from Jessica, and I had answers – genuine thoughtful responses. I thought perhaps I divulged so much about my past, present and hopes for the future because of her open spirit, our mutual beliefs, and her genuine interest in seeing my business efforts excel. Of course, those things played a part, but I had to reflect that this was her job. Jessica is the Female Program Administrator for three different correctional facilities in Franklin, Cuyahoga and Montgomery Counties. Despite the fact, that I’m an adult seemingly on the right path, I am the populace that she serves. She knows me – works with me every day. I was glad to be forging a relationship with someone who recognized me, sans the pity, disgust or awe – for her, my story is just another very familiar, human story. But I am even happier for the young ladies who are in her care. I am solution oriented, and so is Jessica. Empathy, sympathy and cheerleading have their place, but really what have you done for me lately? Or, what is it that I can do for you?
Jessica Jefferson made the request and ODYS ordered books to be shared among the ladies in the various facilities that they serve. I planned to take the books to Jessica’s office and get a few pictures for my social media feeds, but Jessica suggested that I bring the books to Sequel Pomegranate in Franklin County, take some time to share my story with the young ladies and present the books to them personally. On Thursday, February 15, 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with about a dozen girls. I tried to make sense out of why my life had taken the path that it had, and how I was able to create a detour. I didn’t have a destination with best-sellers, wealth, a soulmate or world travel. Even using those terms as non-descriptors is pretentious on my part. All I was able to share, and all the young ladies needed to hear – was a detour.
One young lady had lots of questions, and again, I had answers – genuine thoughtful responses. She said that hearing my story gave her hope that she could make a change in her life, as well. Some of the other girls shared their poetry, and it reminded me that adults’ greatest failure is not allowing children space and time to be children. Jessica and the staff said that I did a good job; no one fell asleep. There were no tears, warm embraces, hearty laughter or rousing applause; I didn’t bring storm clouds, rain, rainbows or a pot of gold. All I had to share was another very familiar, human story with a detour. For the life of me, I cannot recall who it was at my vending table, but she knew “Jessica Jefferson with the Ohio Department of Youth Services” would recognize the population she serves, on or off path, and guide us toward a collective lately.