A few weeks after my release from incarceration in 2018, I was volunteering as a chef at CCU Church in Lowell on Wednesdays while living in a local shelter. Shortly afterwards in 2019, I found out about THRIVE. Jesse, a current Fellow, introduced me to the THRIVE community and encouraged me to participate in THRIVE’s Circles of Support and Accountability [CoSA]. At the time, I felt immense discomfort and estrangement in Lowell because I was isolated from the changes taking place in my community over the course of many years. I signed up for a CoSA and participated in it for a year and built sustainable relationships within the circle that enabled me to stay focused on my goal of becoming a local business owner. The circles are a resource that make people like me feel less like a problem and more of a solution to the problems of this world, in our communities.
I didn’t have a worker’s ID at the time so making a sustainable income felt out of reach and I knew I would have to figure out a way to create my own job. As a chef, I created my own recipe called Kamakazi sauce and I wanted to learn how to create my own business, but I needed an ID first. THRIVE connected me with the director of EForAll and I was encouraged to sign up for their Business Accelerator Program. Upon completing the program in 2020, I was finally going to get my worker ID for my new business called Hop Sing in Town. After 6 months of waiting for an ID, however, it was lost in the mail and I had to wait another 6 months to get an ID. This is a typical institutional barrier for migrants in this country. Hop Sing in Town remains an on-going project that I have plans for in the near future.
When COVID came into effect, I had to stop nearly everything. I acquired a job at the shelter I formerly lived in, and I am currently building a position for myself at THRIVE in order to actualize my advocacy for community care as a resource for people post-incarceration. After completing my CoSA anniversary, I began volunteering for THRIVE by connecting local individuals who I knew needed support in the community. I want to further address the discomfort, isolation and dissociation that survivors of incarceration feel, especially when it is vital to build new relationships that can help them heal and sustain themselves. I am fundraising for the Community Building and Volunteer Coordinator position at THRIVE in order for me to support and encourage people in the community who share my experience.
I want an official job title that will help me help my community alongside others who are passionate about doing this essential labor. I fervently believe that my friends and myself are not the root of the problems in our communities because I believe our leadership is a crucial part of the solution. This position will enable me to bridge relationships with local community members who have survived incarceration so that they can know we are here to be a part of the community and do meaningful work that has not been done before with and among our community. Using my own experience, I look forward to building prosperous futures with my community within this new role.