#FreeBlackWomxn: Dominica’s Story
For Mother's Day 2021, Michigan Liberation and the Advancement Project National Office launched #FreeBlackWomxn campaign, a photo and storytelling project that elevates the voices of Black Michigan mothers who have experienced incarceration. Read Dominica's story below.
The part that I think is ridiculous (about cash bail) is that they will say that or deem someone a danger to society, that this person is a danger to society, so we're not letting them out. But when you go and look at their bail it's $1, so how much of a danger to society do you think this individual is. If you really deem somebody a danger to society, you don't want them out. You definitely will set their bail more than $1.
Like me, at the time, they thought I was a danger to society. Guess what? They didn't set a bail. They didn't set one at all because they felt like I was a danger. Now, of course, I wasn't, but that's how you show that someone is a danger. You set it at a high amount that no one can afford, or you don't set one at all. But you make a mockery of the system or the person by setting their bail at $1.
I just could not imagine being 16 or 17 years old and being sentenced to serve a mandatory life sentence. I was one of those people that could have received a mandatory life sentence, so I knew the feeling like, ‘Oh my God, I may spend the rest of my life in prison for a decision that I made, an impulsive decision.’
I didn't mark out my days, I just took it one day at a time. I did know that I did have an out date. At times it was years away, so it was something that I always kept focused on, but it wasn't till I got closer, maybe four or five years, I moved down to a lower security level, that I actually saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew what day I was coming home. I knew that, well, I still had to go through the parole process, so it wasn't a guarantee. I believed in myself. I think that I took the necessary steps into becoming a rehabilitated woman. But I didn't sit there and count out my days.
Now I am working on to mass incarceration, ending mass incarceration. I'm trying to figure out ways to help rehabilitate the ones that are on the inside. When I was released, I was paroled to my brother's home, but as far as somebody helping me find my own place, I didn't have any resources. I had just family support in doing that. You have to remember that I went to prison when I was 17. I didn't have any real responsibilities. I didn't know how to write a check. I didn't know how look online for stuff. Nobody walked me through these things. It was just the fact that I did take a computer class when I was incarcerated and then just asked questions. These are things that people need to know. It wasn't embarrassing for me, but I can imagine it being embarrassing for other people. When I came out, I faced a lot of challenges, so my ultimate goal is to help the reunification process from the outside now.
Me and my son maintained a very, very close relationship, closer than others. One of the programs that I initiated was the Boy Scouts program. This program allowed for me and my son to visit alone, once a month. It was during those times that I took advantage of those moments and was able to have serious conversations with him. The transition home for me and my son was very, very smooth. Part of us maintaining that relationship was my family bringing him, his father allowing him to come up and visit me during my incarceration, this is what really helped us keep this bond.
When I was incarcerated, I took a lot of college classes. My degree will eventually be in business management. I did take a class through Jackson Community College where we had to write business plans – it was an all-inclusive party planning business. I do have a teeth whitening business registered, it's just a small entrance into the beauty industry. I'm also working on getting a balloon business registered and an LLC for that because I just fell in love with balloon towers and stuffed balloons and stuff like that. Right now, I got my hand in a few different places. I'm traveling down so many paths, I just have to take off at full sprint in one of them, once I get my footing.
I'm certain there are still assumptions made about me. I don't care though. I know what type of person I am today. I know who I am today. I'm very secure and confident. I'm sure since I've been home, people are like, ‘Oh, that's the girl from... Or that's the girl that...‘ It's embarrassing, but I don't care what people think. They're not providing for me, they're not paying my bills, they're not being a parent to my child. So as long as my son is comfortable and he's okay, I don't really care what nobody thinks. They can think what they wanna think about me. I don't move off of other people's thoughts and feelings. I make my own decisions. I focus on my own self. I started where I started, I'm working my way up, and that's just what it is.
One of the things I heard the other day is that when you incarcerate a father, it affects the home. But when you incarcerate a mother, it affects the community. I thought that was so profound. Not saying that there's a different value in the lives of the people that become incarcerated, but I just think that when a mother is away from her child, it has a more significant impact on that child, that family, that community. I think that the fight is an important fight. It's imperative, and I'm glad that I'm a part of it.