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Path to Amicus

April 14, 2011
Suzie Mwarabu

New Amicus Social Media Team Member Suzie Mwarabu

Editor’s Note – Anyone who has done work with social media knows that it takes time, energy, and creativity to sustain an interesting blog, a regularly updated Facebook page and a steady stream of tweets. In that light, we are grateful and excited to have the opportunity to welcome Susan Mwarabu to Amicus social media team. Suzie has already brought fresh energy and tons of ideas to our efforts. Following is Suzie’s very moving story on how she came to volunteer with Amicus:

by Susan Mwarabu

It was no coincidence that I found my way to Amicus. I was searching for an organization I could volunteer with that possessed philosophies resonating with my own. My attention was repeatedly directed back to Amicus.  Specifically, I was drawn to its restorative philosophy of caring, respect, responsibility, community and transformation; the exact ingredients I had been seeking in an organization. But I am getting ahead of myself. A series of unanticipated, far from desirable circumstances were responsible for providing the impetus to volunteer.

Before Amicus

March 11, 2010 was a pivotal day for me, marking a permanent inexorable shift in the course of my life. A celebratory night with girlfriends turned into an evening of feckless drinking and quickly spiraled into an abyss of barely conscious behavior.  The festivities disappeared in a blur and I awoke to a harsh reality of my own making. I was facing an assault charge, a two-night stay in the Ramsey County jail and a screeching halt to my budding career as a teacher.  A guilty plea later coupled with a 58 day house arrest made the demise of my teaching career final.

I was devastated. Reminiscent of a deer caught in headlights, I watched my career, relationships and goals all come crashing down in one fell swoop.  Emotionally numbing myself, I navigated my way through murky legal waters while a barrage of phone calls from reporters and hate mail from the community where I had taught underscored the irrevocable changes in my life. But the worst was yet to come.

The silence!  The utter deafening silence from former friends, colleagues, and acquaintances was perhaps the most grueling to endure. Knowing everyone knew what was going on but receiving only silence from colleagues I had taught with all year long pushed me toward hopelessness. Or perhaps it was watching the media statements made by former collegiate community, eager to exonerate themselves from having the bad judgment of associating with me at all. At one point….No…. At many points; I too found myself wanting to distance myself from who I was. I didn’t think I was worthy of being part of the community I was in.  In time, I perfected the art of disassociation, content to sit back and watch life pass me.

The Tide Changes

My husband and a few friends, some of whom I once taught with, must have sensed I was at a decision point in my life. Would I disengage forever, or try to step back toward life? Wrenching me out of my trancelike state, these few people first wrote character letters on my behalf, and then mercilessly engaged in a relentless campaign to get me back into the land of the living.

I recall one morning sitting in my kitchen with a former teacher and friend who had insisted on stopping by with her daughter and a bag full of assorted bagels. I was petrified. Would they would want to grill me, forcing me to revisit the events I had learned to disassociate from? To my surprise, they didn’t. What followed will forever be imprinted in my memory, for we engaged in a maddening discussion on the merits of cream cheese versus strawberry bagel toppings.  I was grateful for the simplicity of unconditional non-judgmental companionship. At the end of the visit, my friend and her daughter left with a simple stern warning not to dare thank them.  I am careful to access that memory only when I know there is no one around. It still has the power to make me cry.

I knew that if I ever had  the opportunity, I would like to give back; to be an unconditional, non-judgmental friend to someone who was down one day. But I also knew I had much work to do on myself before I could offer myself to the world in that manner.

Anonymity became extremely appealing.  The idea that I could seamlessly get about without anyone recognizing me or knowing that I had somehow broken the social contract appealed to me tremendously for a long time.

Anxiety, depression, guilt and shame became constant companions, refusing to leave my side despite herculean efforts ranging from therapy, traveling to four countries, immersion in self help reading, exercising and even concentration meditation. Everything I engaged in reminded me of the career I lost as a result of my offense.

An ex offender doesn’t wake up one morning and forget that the crime happened. She doesn’t wake up and somehow decide that today she is completely free. One day however, after countless therapy visits, I made a conscious decision to shed the shackles of the past. The loving support of my family and few friends had slowly nursed me back into society. I knew I needed to believe in myself the same way they did.  If it were not for their support, I would have lost hope.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror one day, I told myself in a very Donald Trump-ianesque way:

“You are hired!”

Journey to Amicus

I forgave myself of my past indiscretions and got to work rejoining society. I owed it to my husband, son, and friends who had stood by me. Starting on a list of goals, I tackled each one with determination.

  1. I started on the path toward graduate school. I knew that education was one way to rebuild and present a better version of myself to the world. What better time to study and take the GRE than the house arrest phase of my consequence? So in the 58 days it took to complete my sentence, I studied, took and passed (barely) the GRE test. I applied to several institutions for chances to join their graduate program and to date still await a response. I decided to leave that goal to follow its natural course and moved to the next item on my “reentry to society” agenda.
  2. I began writing again. Always having a passion for writing, I began working on a reflective blog. The blog helps me channel my thoughts and reflections into a place where I could refine and nurture them.  I also started working on a manuscript; detailing aspects of my life and continuing to explore the idea of writing as a career. But most importantly, I make sure to remain open to the possibilities that might present themselves in my life.
  3. I also started looking for volunteer opportunities. I researched organizations in Minnesota that dealt with restorative justice for ex offenders with the knowledge that were it not for the friendship and support of family and close friends, I would have never tackled the adversity that had faced me.

Finding Amicus

Amicus kept coming back to the forefront of all the organizations I researched. Every individual they helped had a different story. They didn’t focus on one specific demographic.  Amicus seemed to have room to address varying issues with different groups being ostracized and marginalized through incarceration.  The range of Amicus’ programs extend  from support groups for those facing long-term prison sentences to peace circles engaged in community outreach dialogue.  I was impressed to find Amicus also had a reentry program designed to assist ex offenders in their searches for jobs and housing after a period of incarceration.

Suffering is all the same.  Both a long term sentence and short house arrest can lead to great loss.  Rejection by loved ones and denial of a second chance in the community has the power to strip someone of humanity. It was evident that Amicus does not focus on just one aspect of a person but uses a broad range of responses to help individuals with varying needs.  Amicus attempts to assist by helping people identify and walk their own path back to community. Without organizations such as Amicus, many people, especially those without the support of a strong family network such as mine, have few, if any, options.

Wasting no time and armed with the knowledge that I had nothing to lose; I took a bold step by calling Amicus and introducing myself. I emailed an introduction and took special care to highlight the blemishes in my life.  I also attached a resume highlighting my credentials (none of which were being utilized) and in no time was recruited as a volunteer blogger for Amicus.

Even with an unclear future, the fact that I could somehow give back to the community and be of value through volunteering at Amicus gives me the hope that others might find value and restoration within the community once they have paid their dues to society


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17 Comments leave one →
  1. Kamutu permalink
    April 14, 2011 5:28 pm

    As a friend and confidant who has known you for many years, I have no doubt that you will be a great addition to the Amicus social media team. Every time I read your story, even though i am already familiar with it,I can’t help but be moved by it. I wish you all the best as you embark on this new frontier in your life. So go forth my dear friend and transform other people’s lives in your community just as you have successfully transformed your own. Good luck Suzie!!

    • April 20, 2011 1:16 pm

      Kamutu,

      It is amazing that you can find time to visit the blog post from a world away!!
      Thank you for your support and I too hope that given the circumstances more people may be touched to continue their volunteer work with Amicus or any other organizations they are involved in. I never knew such a world existed. It is filled with amazing people who are simply doing what their hearts are telling them to do.

      Looking forward to following your global adventures.
      Suzie

  2. Naya Shellum permalink
    April 15, 2011 12:29 pm

    The circle begins to come full. Suzie, I have no doubt that your contribution to Amicus will be stellar, thoughtful and authentic. We will continue to support and cheer you on. You are a blessing to everyone who knows and loves you.

    • April 20, 2011 1:12 pm

      Naya,

      Thank you for visiting our blog and your comments. Adversity has a way of forcing people to look inward for answers. Amicus offers direction and guidance in many ways but the real success is when people such as yourself stand up and support those who least expect it.

      Suzie

  3. Dave N. permalink
    April 15, 2011 1:34 pm

    As another who knew you before and after your transformative experience, it almost feels like – while not diminishing the invaluable service teachers provide – you were destined for bigger things. The person you have become, though still as caring and as compassionate, has such strength character, such fortitude that it is surely evident to everyone who comes across you that you have a new message and a purpose. It’s the stumbling blocks that life provides that truly define who we are; when we are most tested that we have the greatest opportunity to shine. It is with great pride that I have watched you pick yourself up, start to glow and now shine. Shine on, my dear friend, shine on – your destiny awaits.

    • April 20, 2011 1:09 pm

      Thanks Dave,

      Without your support and many others, getting up and doing meaningful things in my life would not have been possible. Frederick Douglas once said that, ” there is no such thing as a self-made man”. Every thing we do, everything we are, and everything we are to become is because someone either did it before, or gave us the opportunity to do it. Writing this piece was difficult because there are people such as you and I am sure we could come up with a longer list, who were instrumental in helping me get on my feet.

      An organization such as Amicus, without knowing anything about me gave me an opportunity to give back into the community using skills I possessed. Now imagine if everyone did the same?

      Thanks Dave.

  4. April 17, 2011 9:07 am

    I want to show my thanks to the writer for rescuing me from such a instance. Right after checking through the world-wide-web and getting suggestions that were not pleasant, I was thinking my entire life was done. Living without the presence of answers to the difficulties you have sorted out all through your entire short article is a critical case, as well as those which may have badly damaged my entire career if I hadn’t come across your web blog. That natural talent and kindness in maneuvering everything was very helpful. I am not sure what I would have done if I had not encountered such a thing like this. I can at this time relish my future. Thanks so much for the high quality and amazing guide. I will not think twice to recommend your site to anybody who will need assistance about this matter.

    • April 20, 2011 1:25 pm

      I am so glad you found this article. I completely understand the driving need to find answers to a difficult situation. Faced with difficulty and when a career is ruined, it is only natural to feel isolated. Like you are a completely alone. I don’t really remember when I first realized that I was pulling out of that dark place, other than the fact that I was constantly surrounded with someone doing something all the time. But most importantly, I had to embrace the idea that I wouldn’t find all the answers I was looking for. I also could not go back in time and have a re-do. That only works in movies apparently. So the only choice I was left with is dealing with what was within my control. Me!

      I hope you find a way out of your difficulties. Be kind to yourself and look forward to seeing your visit back on the blog.
      Suzie

  5. Sheila permalink
    April 18, 2011 11:27 am

    Good luck Suzie… We believe in you..

  6. Dorris permalink
    April 18, 2011 2:53 pm

    Bravo!!!
    Great piece of Art.
    I have never doubted your sincerety,neither have I labeled you in any negative way.”Bad things happen to good people ” There might be a few and isolated people out there who deliberatly choose to be offenders.That will not be you.
    Suzie reading your article I know the sky will be the limit as an author.
    You are destined to great and mighty things.

    • April 20, 2011 12:58 pm

      Thanks Dorris.

      I must say that the journey that I am on is one that thousands of people who have the need for Amicus-like services need. Were it not for the individuals at Amicus, I would not have had the opportunity to see just how much giving is taking place. People with busy lives, finding time to volunteer. Compassion clearly evident within every action taking place in the organization and most importantly, how much awareness of the role communities need to play in offering support to individuals who have erred and are struggling to rectify their lives.

  7. Ray Wiedmeyer permalink
    April 19, 2011 11:16 am

    You are a real inspiration to me Suzie….you pull me away from the way I can keep the Restorative Justice work I do just in my head. You remind me that the work needs to also come from the heart. Restorative Justice at its roots is about helping all of us find our humanity whether it be with bagels and cream cheese or working to trying to change a system that refuses to give folks a second chance. Thanks for reaching out to Amicus and stepping up to help in the work for a justice that restores all. You are a real and important answer to all those that choose to use the internet capabilities of this generation to spread hate and disinformation. I suspect I shall never become part of the tweeting world but I will look forward to your wisdom and inspiration wherever I can find it.

    • April 20, 2011 12:53 pm

      Ray,

      Thank you for your kind inspiring words. Your involvement in Restorative Justice means that your heart was involved in the first place for you to have taken that step. Reaching out to Amicus was the first of the many steps individuals such as myself have to risk taking. Not everyone has the courage to step out into the world and identify themselves as having stumbled. Your role is critical in that you offer the help and guidance for such a step to be realized.

      Thanks again for visiting and look forward to seeing you on our blog.
      Suzie

  8. Thembani Togwe permalink
    May 25, 2011 12:01 pm

    Suzie,

    I am awed by the candor with which you tell your story. Most of us are less candid with ourselves let alone with such a public disclosure! I wish you the very best always.

    • May 25, 2011 10:45 pm

      Thank you Thembani. There is a ubiquitous quote that says, “there is no wisdom like frankness” The truth is I had something most people in similar or worse situations don’t have; a strong support system. The hope is that with this blog an awareness can be generated that some in our communities are not so lucky and need a support system so they too could find a way out of adversity.

  9. Judy Njoki Kimani permalink
    August 26, 2011 7:58 am

    Suzie, your story generates in me tears of sorrow for your suffering and of joy. You are so brave. Firstly, for laying yourself bare where the most of us would cower and cover up and secondly, for humbling yourself and seizing the bull by its horns. You are a luminary illustration of what the spiritual teacher Byron Katie means when she says, “Everything happens for you and not to you.”
    As one of your champions said, maybe teaching was just an exit, a detour on your great highway. You’re back on the interstate and it’s on and upwards from here. Sharon Salzberg asks, “What can any of us place our faith in that endures?” Indeed. We have to pick ourselves up after a nasty fall, dust off and keep on moving. Lord knows, if we stand still our stake will slide from underneath us. Am a firm believer that, albeit what’s to come, life is always directing us to our utmost good.
    From my own life altering (or cutely, life adjusting) encounter I now know that while pain is inevitable, or maybe fated, suffering is elective. Stay brave Sus in this wondrously patterned fabric of life, may you eternally discover God in the tiniest particulars.
    Everything is an education; we should never claim perfection but progress. An eclipse, a time of gloominess and murkiness, is a precursor to true learning. God bless you and the society of Amicus.
    And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Anais Nin. Flower, my friend, the world needs to see you bloom!

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