So I am not sure how this might come across to some people but I thought I would share it anyways. I am always hesitant to who I tell this to but I thought that I shouldn’t be scared of my past anymore. My past shouldn’t own who I am; I should own my past.
There was a time that I had a lot of anger built up inside me. I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t know how to handle it. Unfortunately, my first run in with the police was when I was about 13 years old. I had a fight with a girl at my elementary school. She was scared and told her parents. Then the police came by my house and spoke to my mom. My mom then spoke to me. I never fought another girl again.
Then another time, I was running away from the hospital after they told me that I couldn’t practice my traditional medicines (I had been in the hospital for overdosing and they wouldn’t let my family see me even–they thought my family was the problem). I eventually came out to my family who was looking for me and they brought me home safely. I hid there until the Anishnabek Police came. They simply asked my mom, “Is she safe Sharon?” They knew she had me. They weren’t that silly. My mom said, “Yes” and they went on their way.
That wasn’t the last time I had a run in with the police. Over the course of the next 6-7 years, I did a lot of things that I just couldn’t explain. It was strange. I don’t know why I did them. The way I could explain these things happening to me was that, I would almost always feel like I was watching myself from a far when these things happened. I later learned this was a thing called “dissociation.” It’s as the word says, the mind, body, emotions, whichever part of that person literally “dissociates” from another. It is a defense mechanism to those who have suffered trauma, rape and/or abuse. I didn’t learn about this until my first year of university here in London. It has brought a lot of understanding to my actions and me.
Unfortunately, again, the last major run in with the police was when I was 21. During that time, I was fortunate enough to be apart of a new court program that eliminated my jail time. Did I spend some time in jail? Sure. The longest time spent? I can’t really remember exactly (and I don’t really want to remember) but it was more than 2 days but less than 7. At least I think, it might have been longer. Not sure. (You lose track of time and days when you don’t really see the outside world). I then met a lady who was part of the court program who I had to see once a week. I remember when I first met her I felt at home. Her voice was so soothing. Her office was the comfiest place I could have ever been in while staying in London. Then before even my court program had ended, she announced that she was leaving for a different position. My thoughts then were, “Being abandoned again.” Today, I would have thought of this as a learning process and a process to start growing on my own.
Then recently, I had attended an event on the Indian Residential School System in Canada. I had looked up at this lady and she looked so familiar but I didn’t want to keep staring at her. Within 5 minutes of sitting down, she came up to me and said to me, “you look really familiar. Have we met before?” And I smiled and I said the same thing, which was she looked familiar to me too. I didn’t know from where though. So we said our Hellos and then she went on to prepare for the presentation.
The entire time I sat there during the presentation listening to what she had to say. I also kept trying to figure out where I knew she was from. It wasn’t college. It wasn’t university. It wasn’t an event that I volunteered at either.
Then I had a sort of an Aha! Moment. She was the woman who had been my counsellor during my court program. I remembered her because of her voice. I then started to tear up. Not because I was sad but because I was honoured. Here I was sitting there now listening to the same lady’s story who had taken the time earlier in my life during a troubled time to hear my story and help me. It was moving because I met her in an institution and a system that was oppressive to First Nations people. I remember her saying during this presentation,
“It is funny how [Aboriginal men and women] now learn their culture in an institution when it was an institution that took it away”
And I could relate because when I moved to London, I had no idea where to go and the only way I found out was through this system. I had what I knew from growing up and from what my parents taught me but I wanted to practice my culture again. Living in London, I had a hard time finding that and the right people to go to but after being in this court program… I oddly found out.
It is a strange conundrum: It was an institution, the residential school system, then that oppressed our culture and tried to take it away but it is an institution, prisons, jails, criminal justice systems, now that oppress Aboriginal people but allows those that are involved in them to learn about their culture.
Now, and during that event, I was sitting there in school listening to her presentation, her story, her children respond to answers from the audience as a criminology student, a better person. Today, I work in the legal industry. Most people see me as “always smiling” or “always positive.” Trust me, I have lots to smile about and to remain positive for. Work. School. Family. Friends. Freedom.
I don’t have a criminal record but I have experience within the system. Now, I hope one day to work with Aboriginal women who enter the justice system whether it be they are an offender or a victim (or in most cases with Aboriginal people who enter the criminal justice system especially Aboriginal women, they are both a victim to and an offender of the justice system). I also hope to work with social service agencies or policing agencies to help them better address the needs of Aboriginal people who enter the criminal justice system or better understand their situations. There needs to be a greater understanding of the situations that surround Aboriginal people, especially Aboriginal women and why or how they enter the justice system. I hope to one day use my education and my knowledge and my experiences in bringing about that greater understanding.