Freedom Within

by Debra Bailey

A native of Sacramento and mother of four, Debra participated in the Art of Soulmaking program for more than a year. Since her release, she’s enrolled in college with plans of obtaining her Alcohol and Other Drug certificate to help others who are struggling with addiction and then transferring to Humboldt University to study social work.

My name is Debra Bailey, I am a former inmate of the Mendocino County Jail. I was incarcerated from June 15, 2021, until October 26, 2022. During this time, I participated in all programs offered at the jail. Specifically, the garden program, yoga, and the Art of Soulmaking. I learned how to meditate and be mindful of all things going on around me and in my life which gave me peace of mind. These programs were wonderful. They helped me endure the long incarceration I was facing. I was able to view jail not as a prison, but as an opportunity to learn, so then true freedom was possible.

The staff in charge of these programs, Kate Feigin, Marissa Ward, and Marla Moffet, worked hard to provide programs for the inmates who desperately wanted to change their lives. They were always professional and kind, making the inmates their main priority and in doing so, through these programs, helped reduce recidivism.

A day in the garden was like freedom to my heart. Wandering around harvesting fruits and vegetables that were planted from seeds was truly rewarding. Nurturing and caring for the garden is like an art: it has to be done just so, and everything flourishes with abundance. It was so satisfying to sit down to a meal and see the vegetables we grew on our plates. I would always announce to the others with a smile, “I planted and harvested that.” It was always a proud moment.

Incarceration is difficult. It is not easy to do time. Through these programs life in jail was bearable. It really upsets me that most of these classes are gone due to reported misinformation. I can speak for all incarcerated at the Mendocino County Jail in that we were not exploited in any way, shape, or form. I was very involved in every aspect of all the programs offered. The staff were always professional and kind, treating us not as inmates, but as people. Since the programs have been shut down, it has been a disservice to the jail. Idle time for those still there creates problems inside the jail. Not to mention those with mental health issues suffer from not interacting in a positive environment and isolating themselves.

The Unconditional Freedom Project allowed people to grow intellectually and mentally, creating freedom within the concrete walls. I personally benefited from this program tremendously, and it has changed my life. I have attained goals in my life in such a short time I never thought possible. I have dreams and aspirations that I never had before. Through the programs and teachings, I have learned a new way of life. I am grateful to the Unconditional Freedom Project and the time I was able to participate in the different groups offered. I am speaking for myself and advocating for those still incarcerated. These programs are an important part of change, and for change to happen, we must be educated and prepare for the world before us so when we step outside the gates, we are ready to begin to live.