December Ablessing Collins is hard to miss in a room. She constantly uses her hands to talk and her bright smile naturally invites conversation. It’s a stark difference, she knows, from who she was in her darkest moments. In 2014, three days before she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science, her mother died.
She became more responsible for her family then, not just for her career or life goals. “It was just all of that responsibility, just kind of took flight,” she tells Next City. From the emotional burden of losing her mother to suddenly having to take care of her family, she made some poor decisions, hung out with the wrong people, found herself with two felony charges and was incarcerated.
She served a fraction of her sentence, just three months. But the time changed her. Even with the programs meant to rehabilitate incarcerated women within jails, she wasn’t under any illusions. Prison was meant to keep her away from interacting with the rest of society. “Everything was just rules, rules, rules. It’s hard to describe. [Prison] kind of just makes you lazy,” she says.
When she got out, there were other challenges. Her family had nearly abandoned her during her time inside, and the social stigma followed her on the outside. “People were ripping me off,” she says. “People have always expected more of me. I wasn’t valuable to them anymore because I made a mistake.”
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