#FreeBlackWomxn: Tamika’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 Tamika's story below.
I had never been in trouble. I know I didn't live a perfect life, but I had never been in trouble. I didn't know the law. I listened to what my attorney said. He said, ‘You're going home after this. We just gotta go through the trial, but you will be going home.’ And so that's what I believed. I believed him up until the bitter end, and when they said guilty, I just lost it. I didn't understand it. To be blamed for a crime, when you know in your heart that you were not guilty of, and to have to do the time for that, that was really, really devastating.
I gave birth incarcerated. When I had my baby, I was shackled, my legs were shackled, my hands were shackled. I gave birth with my legs handcuffed to each side of the bed. Nobody else was allowed in the room. Just me and the guards. I only got to spend two days with my new son. Then my mother came to get him. It wasn’t my choice, that was the State. I had no choice, I wouldn't have let my baby go with her. After 30 days, I started having visits through the Child Visitation Program.
I was also there when a lady had her baby in the bathroom at Healthcare. We were sitting there and all of the sudden we heard the baby and were like, ‘Wait a minute, what's happening?’ 'Cause they didn't think she was pregnant. They didn't think she was really in labor. They thought she was playing and didn't take her to the hospital.
I was originally sentenced 22 to 45 years. It wasn't always easy 'cause I had a lot of rough patches, a lot of times when I gave up. But I know today that God always had his hands on me and he didn't see fit for me to not be here. He didn't see it fit for me to give up, even when I had given up. There's been times when I wanted to die and welcomed death and it didn't happen. There's been times where I done signed the Do Not Revive paperwork at the hospital. I was mad, I was numb.
My hardest part was coming home and when I had no resources, it was hard. Even now, I can't find a decent job because of my past. Can't find apartments because you a felon. You took my $100, but I can't get the apartment? I applied for 10 different apartments and was denied every last one, not because of my credit, but because of my background. To keep being told, background check, background check, background check, that's discouraging.
I didn't used to understand when people used to come back and return back to prison, but I get it now, how easy it can be. Because now you feel like you gotta fend for yourself, and there's not people out here, or if it is people out here that's willing to help, we don't know about it. I had a whole thick packet, not one of them came through, provided for us nothing, I haven't had no help since I've been out here, none. Everything I did, I did. I had no help. Nobody told me about no resources. One day I remember just crying because I was so hurt. I can see how it's discouraging for other people, 'cause I was being discouraged. But in the midst of me getting discouraged, I allowed it to motivate me.
To me, I never really was the child. At 14, I was the woman of the house. At 15, I had a child. I had my own house and paying bills and all of that, so I never looked back. So, I didn't have that childhood like a lot of people have.
I know that today, I know where my strength came from, and in my last 10 years, it was like, I struggled, struggled, struggled. However, I was determined to make it home. I was determined to continue to get to know me and the person that I am and not be who they said that I was, but to be the person that I know I could be, and I just never looked back. I pushed for it, and I had peace in my heart and peace in my mind then. That's how I live my life now, with peace.
I just wanna be a part of something more than what I'm doing that at my job. To see people that can barely help themselves or defend themselves. I just need to help them with some guidance. It makes a difference. To let people know that they are people too. To have something to do that I really, really believe in and I'm passionate about, that you put your everything into it… in the next year, I either wanna start an organization or open up my own business and do something with domestic violence.
What touches my heart about domestic violence? To see people that stay. To see people that have lost their lives. Why do people stay? Well, she stayed, she must like it. It probably was her fault. Sometimes really the fear keeps them stuck. Feeling like they don't have nobody. I would love to just be able to show not just support, but to be able to help somebody in situations like that. To let them know, okay, that there is an out. Sometimes people don't know that you're being violated in your relationship, that your spouse can rape you. A lot of people don't know that, and it happens. And so, I wanna be able to just be there with them women and show support and help them.
I would just like to let these women know that you are not alone in this. There are others out there like you and you will survive. You will get through this, and there's people out here that's got your back. We will support you and love on you.
I try to help other people when I can. I just feel like I owe it to me. I owe it to my son to just try to be a better me, to not be just a statistic, to not just be somebody who says ‘Okay, I did this time and I don't have nothing to show for it.’
People need help and nobody is giving it to them. Nobody listening. Everybody deserves a second chance. You never know nobody's story. That's why I tell people, ‘Don't judge a book by a cover because you just never know.’ And then I feel like people need to just show support to each other. Support those that have been incarcerated or are victims of the justice system. My past don't determine who I am today. I didn't let it dictate my life then, and I'm not gonna do it now. I'm continuing to strive to be a better me every day. We've all made some type of mistakes in our life, but hopefully we are all growing and becoming better people and making better decisions.