#FreeBlackWomxn: Geneva's Story - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

#FreeBlackWomxn: Geneva’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 Geneva's story below.

Geneva // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

I think Black Mamas Bailout is a very important program. To separate the mother and child is a crime and a sin within itself, and it affects more than just that parent and that child. The reason why I say that is because if that parent has to leave that child, that child is being left with someone else. So now it's someone else's problem or someone else's pleasure. And it may happen that pleasure turns into, ‘I wanna adopt your child. You're in prison, you can't do anything about it. You've lost your rights.’ Or the bad part of that is someone else is raising your child and they're abusing them or they're mistreating them or they're not treating them like they treat other kids that might be around.

And then on the mother's side, unfortunately, some come to prison who do not deserve their child. But does that mean they should not see them if they were to make changes? Yeah, 'cause everyone that improves themselves should have a second chance and I'm so grateful for the second chance that I was given. I am so grateful, so, so grateful.

Geneva // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

The first time I ever been in a county jail, I was 18 at the time and I was petrified. This isn't something you prepare for. I passed out. At the police station was the most devastating thing because they told me if I made a statement, I would go home. I thought at 18 years old, okay, if I tell them something, I'm out of here. So of course, I want to tell them anything I could think of. You know what I'm saying? I know I'm in trouble, okay, I'm gonna tell you something, I'm gonna give you something. So, of course, not knowing what to do is definitely against you.

I was in an abusive relationship for approximately four years and in trying to get out of that relationship, I made bad choices. I made bad choices in how I was living my life and it was not safe for me or my children. I came across a guy who decided I didn't have the right to say no. One thing led to another and he died and I went to prison. To say, ‘I'm a murderer’, or ‘I murdered him,’ I would never admit to that. I would never say that because that's not how it happened, that's not who I am. Do I have any regrets about the situation? Absolutely. I would have never wanted to take someone's life. That's not me, that's not who I am. But yeah, I did. And in taking his life, unfortunately, it took the lives of my children, my mom, my family, it destroyed a lot of people.

Geneva // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

You can be anywhere and be in a prison for one. You can be anywhere and still be free. And even though I was in prison, I think I was the freest person alive. And the reason why I say that is because it took me from a situation that could have led to death for me. I could have been strung out on drugs. I could have been on the street. I grew up in there. I learned from the things that I didn't wanna do, and the woman I didn't wanna be. I learned the things that I want to learn to be the woman I am now, and the woman I wanted to be.

Did I have resources when I got out? I came home to my mother, and I didn't need the resources at that time when they were available to me. When I did need them, they weren't available. Resources should not be limited. When we come out here, if y'all want us to succeed and to become productive citizens, we should not be denied jobs, we should not be denied an application of an apartment. We have to live somewhere. You want us to have a job, you want us to have a life, then you have to let us live somewhere, you have to give us a job, you have to give us a chance to show something better than what a number represents or a crime or a charge.

We have to live somewhere, 'cause when we don't live somewhere, then we're on the street. When we're on the street, we're back to committing crimes. While we're committing crimes, we go back to prison, and then that's just a revolving door. Either they want it like that for us, or they don't. Either you want us to go back prison, or you want us to succeed. Which one is it? 

Like when you get out on parole. If I have no job, how am I gonna pay your restitution or probation fees? If I can't get a job, if I can't get nowhere to live to lay my head, my family don't wanna let me in their house no more. I can't get my own place in my own name. I ain't got nobody who's gonna help me out. Where I'm gonna live? I gotta go live in a shelter and get all my stuff and get took into shelter. It's really bad.

Geneva // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

My first job, I was a front desk receptionist at a law firm. A friend of mine that had been incarcerated before called me up out the blue. I was having the hardest time trying to get my birth certificate and so I couldn't get a job. I had just got my birth certificate in the mail, and that Friday night, she called me, was like, ‘You want a job?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah.’ I had to go do something. My mother took me there that Saturday morning, and I went to an interview. But as much as I appreciate my friend getting me that job, I left that job to go work at McDonald's. And I loved it.  

Because in the six months to a year, I became a manager, and I loved it. I've always wanted to work at McDonald's, even since I was a kid, and I had the best time. And I've worked there for about three years. I'm enjoying my life out here, I'm blessed. I thank God for the second chance. Even though I've had hard times, and I get down, I still remind myself that I wouldn't wanna be anywhere else, and I would not want to take advantage of this opportunity and my chances out here. I never wanna do that.

But the thing is, you have to be stronger than what's out here, 'cause I thought I was strong, and I came out here and I feel like I crashed and burned. But I dust myself off and here I go. I just keep going. As far as my future, I will be having an ice cream food truck somewhere in your area. I'm not gonna tell you the name of it yet 'cause I don't want anybody to steal my idea. But I'm also gonna have a graphics company. That's my future. I'm gonna do it all. I'm gonna do everything. It's gonna be a one-stop shop. And I actually started those two things, those two ideas while I was incarcerated. Planned out my whole little truck and everything. 

 Don't give up, don't give up. There's a door for everyone, and don't give up. Just believe in yourself, set a goal, strive and get it. Accomplish it. I ain't got to mine yet, but I'm getting there. I'mma have that truck, and own that graphics company, just like I got my [Cheverolet] Trax.

Geneva // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge