Leslie Sites is a mentee in our mentoring program. Below is the speech she gave at our brunch on Sunday April 19th. She is an incredible inspiration to all of us at the IF Project.
In 2010 I returned to prison for the fourth time. I had relapsed on drugs and started hanging with the same people that had led me into trouble before. When I arrived at Purdy, the women’s prison, I was disgusted with myself. I felt like this was going to be my life. That this was as good as it was ever going to get. I felt it was all I deserved.
About a year into my sentence I got a letter saying that my oldest son was going to prison. I was so scared for Justin and what his life would hold. I had wanted so much more for him. That was the day that I knew I had to do something better with my life. I wanted to become a good example for him to follow. Because the reality is he had already followed in my footsteps and that road lead him to prison.
I started attending every class that was available to me at the prison. I earned my Horticulture Certification and upon completion of the course I started working as a teacher’s assistant. I got involved in everything I could. I started to address my issues of addiction and little by little I started to heal.
I had seen a flyer about the IF project mentoring program. I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about signing up, after all Kim is a cop and I was pretty sure that all of the potential mentors would also be in law enforcement. I still had an “us” and “them” mentality. And I was not a THEM. But I took a chance and attended the first mentor/mentee meet and greet. It was overwhelming and chaotic. The mentors were waiting for us to walk into the room. And they all had smiles on their faces and looked genuinely happy to see us. So I thought, huh, maybe they aren’t cops. We had a very short time to meet and get to know each of the mentors. It was crazy and hot and a lot of fun. When I met Anika I knew we had a connection right away. We both have a love for Horticulture so we just clicked. Anika was my first choice and I was very happy to hear that she was going to be my mentor.
Prior to my release Anika came to the prison to visit me. That meant so much to me because I hadn’t had a visitor in the four years that I had been there. I was humbled by the fact that she would take time out of her day to come visit me and get to know me better. We talked about what my plans were for my life after I was released and she gave me hope for my future. I wasn’t alone. Anika has been amazing thru the whole transition. We meet at least once a month to sit down and talk about how I am adjusting and we brainstorm thru any struggles I might be having. And a lot of the time she just lets me vent. I am so grateful to have her in my life.
I have been out of prison for almost a year now and I am amazed at how far I have come. I am still in a program that supports my recovery and transition. I have been reunited with my kids and I get to be part of my brand new grandson’s life. I have graduated a program called life skills to work and have been offered a two year scholarship. I am currently enrolled at South Seattle College and will be attending classes in the fall quarter. I will be working on a human services degree. Eventually I want to be a liaison between organic farms and food banks.
Having a mentor has been a life line for me. I know that I have a community member that cares about my success. My thinking has changed because of being part of this program. I know longer think of life being divided as “us” and “them”. Its “we”. We are all members of a community. I no longer feel judged by my past but supported in my future. And because of that I know that I will never return to the life that I had before. I don’t ever have to return to prison.