Alissa didn't feel safe until she went to prison.
A life of fear, pain, and abuse greeted 8-year-old Alissa when her mother married her stepdad. She remembers her mom getting married and, unthinkably, "[giving] me to him as a wedding present."
Things only got harder as she grew older. Alissa recalls her stepdad "passing her around" to his buddies when she was 12.
"When I came to prison," she says, "it was the first time in my life I felt safe ... it was kind of a relief to get here."
FUN IN THE SUN
For a while, prison promised a new life for Alissa. She found a community of people like herself—people she could connect with and count on. She grew accustomed to a sense of camaraderie and care between yards and cells. Many would gather together for potlucks, making sure new people had basic necessities for life inside—shoes and coffee.
But the light hearts soon became heavy. Now it's almost constant fighting, Alissa says. That means plenty of action for corrections officers, and plenty of time on the ground for everyone else.
"Now because there have been so many incidents … if something happens on one yard, all the officers have to respond," Alissa explains. "You hear an alarm, you have to get down. You have to get on your butt no matter where you are—in a rain puddle, a pile of ants, anywhere. It doesn't matter, you just have to get down."
GOD SHOULD BE HERE TOO
The struggles of prison and the weight of her past wore Alissa down. Still, she felt like she couldn't turn to God for help. Her parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, so she knew the Bible from cover to cover. But the hypocrisy she had seen was too much.
She transferred facilities in 2013. Wallowing in her situation, she tried to kill herself. The prison staff had to take extraordinary measures to bring her back to life.
Recovering in the trauma center, she heard time and again that she had a purpose—that God was with her through everything she had experienced.
"People would tell me, 'God was with you the whole time you went through all that.' And I was angry. I [thought], ‘Well, if God was with me, He should be in prison too.’"
GOD WAS ALWAYS THERE
Even as anger filled Alissa’s heart, nurses in the trauma unit encouraged her. They told her she had a purpose; they told her when she smiled at them, when she asked them how they were doing, and when she said "good morning.”
After weeks of hearing affirmation, of being told she had a purpose, Alissa broke down crying. She cried out to God and asked Him to tell her what she was there for. And she got an answer: "I didn't hear this big booming voice of God, but it was this little voice you hear inside of you. And God [said], ‘You do have a purpose. Your purpose is to glorify me ... you went through all that stuff, and I was with you the whole time.’"
Alissa finally believed her life had value, and she knew she couldn’t face the rest of it alone. She joined a church on the inside, sought mental health help, and attended Christian women’s groups. Still incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility today, she is thankful for opportunities like the Prison Fellowship® Hope Event™ she attended in March, where she served as an usher. She especially loved worshipping with her sisters in Christ and meeting Prison Fellowship volunteers.
“People are so hungry for hope in here,” says Alissa, “and that’s what you bring. Prison Fellowship brings the Word into this place.”