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Ashley Collins

2835

Bold Points

1x

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1x

Finalist

Bio

Once incarcerated, I now write books that focus on recovery, overcoming recidivism and social justice. My first book, Paganism for Prisoners: Connecting to the Magic Within (Jan. 2022), won a Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) gold award. My second book, Paganism on Parole: Connecting to the Magic All-Around (Nov. 2022) is a companion to the first book. It explores how individuals can reintegrate into society with the help of their spiritual path. There are also tips for parole officers on how to work with this growing population. Llewellyn has me under contract for a third book called 111. I also have my first fiction work being evaluated by a major publisher. Other works in progress include a book based on a true story, my father's story, which explores the role of mental health and incarceration, a fiction work about a drug addict who is a reluctant superhero, and several others. Getting my MA in creative writing is going to take me from a great writer to a phenomenal one. My words will help change lives. That is my primary goal.

Education

Royal Holloway- University of London

Master's degree program
2022 - 2024
  • Majors:
    • Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies

Metropolitan State University of Denver

Bachelor's degree program
2017 - 2021
  • Majors:
    • Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences, Other

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Master's degree program

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

    • Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Writing and Editing

    • Dream career goals:

      Author

    • TA

      MSU-Denver
      2021 – 2021
    • Author

      Llewellyn Worldwide
      2020 – Present4 years
    • Peer Specialist

      Jefferson Center
      2019 – 20201 year

    Research

    • Present

    Arts

    • Llewellyn Worldwide

      writing
      Paganism for Prisoners, Paganism on Parole, 111
      2020 – Present
    • Denver Public Library: Writing Your Truth

      Public Speaking
      Writing Your Truth
      2022 – Present

    Public services

    • Volunteering

      Women's Department of Corrections — Teacher, clergy
      2018 – Present

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    Bold Mental Health Awareness Scholarship
    We could help more people struggling with mental health by doing three things. The first, starting mental health treatment at a younger age. The second is emphasizing mental health treatment for the incarcerated populations. And the third is normalizing mental health treatment. In the first instance, we have to consider that there is a correlation between childhood trauma and mental health struggles in adulthood. While there are childhood mental health treatments available, they require parental consent. Where this becomes problematic is if the parent in question either doesn't believe in mental health services or is scared that cases of abuse or neglect will be discovered. In the latter, when mental health services are denied to children who might be in abusive or neglectful situations, help is being denied to those children likely to need it most. In the second case, there is a well-known and documented relationship between drug use and incarceration. It is also common for drug use to be linked to childhood trauma. When a population that suffered childhood trauma is incarcerated and their mental health untreated or undertreated, the underlying cause of incarceration is ignored. This is one of many reasons why recidivism is so high in the US. In the third instance, the normalization of healthcare would remove some of the stigma people fear they will face. I talk quite openly about how getting mental health treatment doesn't mean that a person has a defect. What it means is that the person realizes that everyone needs someone to talk to. If we start acting like mental health is something everyone should be attending to, then more people will attend to it. It should be as common and destigmatized as annual health checkups. That's what they are. Health checkups for the mind.
    Michael Rudometkin Memorial Scholarship
    To me, selflessness is not embodied in a single act, but in a series of acts that a person engages in throughout their lifetime. It is a state of mind. Let's look at the act of holding the door open for someone. Now, it won't come with a parade and no one will print the door holders name in the paper, so why do we do it? We do it because it is kind. And I for one do not think that you can have a discussion about selflessness without touching on kindness. For if we are not motivated by accolades, then this altruistic tendency towards kindness is what will inspire us to do selfless things. The first book I ever wrote was a labor of love. It occurred to me, through volunteer work I was doing at the prisons, that this population of people needed guidance and something to inspire them. So, I wrote Paganism for Prisoners and its companion--Paganism on Parole--with selfless intention. All I knew was that spirituality had helped me change my life and maybe it could help others. So, during my undergrad, I sacrificed free time and put my fingers to my keys in order to complete them. It would be misleading to say that I have not gained status and acquired a sense of fulfillment from these books. But when I wrote them the desire to help change lives was my motivation. I think that those of us who have overcome adversity, and thrived because of it or despite it, get put into a unique situation. We get the opportunity to lead by example. Now, not all those who triumph over their past will pick up this weighty burden. But some of us will. Some will write books or speak publicly or work in mental health or even become advocates. These positions, even if they come with secondary benefits, are most often inspired by the selfless desire to change the world. My writing career is just beginning. It is an honor and a privilege to get to lend my voice to those who are either going through or have gone through trauma. I am a woman who as a child witnessed psychological and physical violence daily. I am a woman who as a child helped testify against her own father. I have survived rape, molestation, teasing, substance use, incarceration, and poverty. The fact that I have survived, and learned to thrive, inspires me to help others do the same. You could argue that this isn't entirely selfless. After all, when I help others heal, I heal too. But maybe selfless doesn't have to mean that we get no benefit. Maybe it simply means that our motivation is focused on something greater than ourselves.
    "Forbidden Foods" Scholarship
    It wasn't until my Junior year in my undergrad that I became aware of my food sensitivities. When you study in a field like Integrative Healthcare, dietary discussions are bound to come up. It wasn't until we started having these discussions that I became consciously aware of my sensitivity to dairy. Initially, I thought the same things that everyone does. "But I've been drinking milk since I was a baby," "the commercials all say it does a body good," and "maybe it's a coincidence that I get such digestive trouble after drinking milk." Like any good researcher, I put the theory to the test. Long story short, I now use cow dairy alternatives and have found that my digestive issues have virtually gone away. For the next two years I found myself thinking about our relationships with food in a different way. It was Ann Wigmore who said, "The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison." Unfortunately, this idea is still met with much skepticism. As people load up their plates with bacon doughnuts, slather on high fructose ketchup, and get their 900% daily recommended dose of sugar our chronic conditions steadily rise. In my books, I frequently talk about how people can alter their diet, and improve their health, by making small but deliberate changes. A person does not need to become a "super vegan" overnight (or at all). Instead they can reduce their soda intake and replace two desserts a week with fruit for six months, thus creating a habit. Then they pick the next thing. Using this process, I went from addicted to soda to rarely drinking it. And don't get me started on the process of eliminating fast food. It has taken years for me to build a generally healthy diet. But it has been worth it. There are many messages, just like this one, that I want to put onto pages and get into the hands of avid readers. This scholarship can help me do that. I am getting my MFA in creative writing so that I will have the skills necessary to produce works of fiction, non-fiction, and some that linger between the two. I am already a good writer, an MFA will make me a great one. Literature has impact. It can inspire people to make changes. That's what my work does, at least what I hope it does--inspire change. This scholarship would help me maintain my healthy diet for a few months. It would keep my fridge stocked with actually food so that my hard work doesn't have to be for naught.
    Bold Art Scholarship
    This summer I have been employed at the Van Gogh Immersive Art exhibit. One of the advantages of working there is getting to see the exhibit. I have been a fan of Van Gogh, among other artists, for most of my life. Certainly my whole adult life. The first time I sat in that gallery, engaged by art and surrounded by music, I got tears in my eyes. It happened when the stars from 'Starry Night Over the Rhone' filled the room. Every brush stroke could be seen. Every paint color could be felt. Art is meant to provoke emotion. As an author, I provoke this emotion with words. But when I was in that room and the color swept over my body I felt a connection to Vincent that I had never felt before. I was with him, in his art, part of it. It was a spiritual experience the likes of which I still feel when I enter the gallery. Now, when seeing 'Starry Night Over the Rhone,' I find myself transported to that moment and that feeling. It is as though I transverse space and time and stand in a parallel, but connected world, where I am made more alive because of swirls of paint. This experience has inspired my most recent work in progress. It is about the world from the perspective of art and how the intent of the artist shapes their world and their view.
    Shawn’s Mental Health Resources Scholarship
    I have built relaxation into my life in such a way that it has become as natural as breathing. Breathing is actually one of my favorite ways to clear my mind. And I don't mean absently taking in air and exhaling gases. Conscious breath increases the amount of oxygen which flows to our organs and our brains. I make it a habit to stop and take in a few purposeful and intention breaths whenever I think about it through out the day. This helps clear my mind and regulate my emotions. As often as possible I include multiple senses in the acquisition of a clear mind. When the stress of the world gets to me, I turn to another element, water. Candlelit baths in some epsom salts simulate the safety of the sacred womb. When I am submerged in the water I find that politics and anger and negative interaction leave my thoughts. What they get replaced with is a moment of being present. Sometimes this moment is taking place in front of the divine because that salt water bath illuminated by flame puts me in the presence of all the elements. Then, of course, there is the utilization of sound. When I write, I like to be in an altered state of consciousness to let the words better flow out of my fingertips. To achieve this I use music or other sounds. The vibration of a violin when it is played by one who loves to play resonates through my body and provides inspiration. When I am not in the mood for music, I will turn to sounds of nature--a crackling fire, the sounds of the planets provided by NASA, or rainfall. Simple, melodious, and effective I find that these sounds enhance my focus and bring me to a place within myself that resonates with a higher frequency than the world around me. My challenge has been, and continues to be, slowing down. I think that is true for many of us. The world is all "go, go, go." This past year or so, I have had to utilize many tips to slow myself down and appreciate the space I am in. I have found that turning off the TV and opening a book I genuinely enjoy gives me permission to slow down. As the words form images in my mind, I no longer seek to race to the end. Instead I find myself willing to hang out for a moment and live in that world. We must learn to be gentle with ourselves. A breathe, a bath, or a book these seemingly small things are luxurious and pampering to what is often a weary spirit. Building these practices into my life has taken time. It continues to take time. But the benefits that I have gained from actively including self-care can be seen on my body, felt in my mind, and heard in my spirit.
    Bold Art Matters Scholarship
    One of my favorite pieces of artwork calls to me, not because of the artist but because of the woman who posed for it. Her name was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (Siddall). She posed in a bathtub of water for five months while John Millais painted her. She got quite sick with pnuemonia as a result, but eventually pulled through. Several years later, a miscarriage threw Siddal into a deep depression. She died from an opioid (Laudanum) overdose, though no one is sure if this was accidental or intentional. Theories abound both ways. Her boyfriend, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, buried her with a book of unpublished poems that he wrote. This should have been the end of a short life and tragic story, but it gets even more tragic. Years pass and Rosetti's career is in the tank. He gets the idea to exhume Siddal's body and publish the book of poems buried with her. He does this, although it did little to revive his career. Despite his last wishes, he is buried in the grave with Siddal at Highgate Cemetary in London. Last fall I made a pilgrimage to her grave so that she would know what her life meant to me. For me, her story is the story of womankind. Throughout her life she sacrificed her health and happiness for the artworld and the men within it. Almost everyone knows her face. But few know her story or even her name. When I look upon Ophelia, I see beyond the brushstrokes. I see the story of this woman, who like so many to this day, wanted to be loved by those who surround her.
    Robert Lee, Sr. and Bernice Williams Memorial Scholarship
    My dad was violent. To cope, my mom got in the habit of working more than a person probably should. At the age of 12, my father went to prison with the aid of my testimony. My mom moved out of state for a "fresh start." But it's like they say, everywhere you go, there you are. She kept working her double, sometimes triple shifts, leaving me alone in the mountains by myself. I was depressed from the relentless teasing my dad's incarceration had brought upon me. A case like his couldn't help but get media coverage. My mental health was bad during my teenage years. I hurt all the time but convinced myself I needed to put on a strong face--even then I knew I was tougher than my mom. The sad thing is that while I was trying to save her, parent her, and keep her safe, I was slipping into darkness so rapidly that it felt like the only reality I had ever known. Several years later, I found drugs. They numbed me. At the time I thought that's what happiness was, not feeling. For most of my early adulthood, I stayed high thinking I was happy but still praying not to wake up each day. I was lost but kept grabbing at straws trying to be saved. I worked odd jobs, but could never keep them. I tried to join the Air Force, but being molested by my recruiter prevented it from happening. All the men I met wanted to sleep with me. Many raped me. At the time I thought that meant they wanted me. Being wanted equaled being valued, didn't it? My story, so full of pain and turmoil has a happy ending though. Or a happy new beginning if you prefer. As inevitably happens, I was arrested for my drug use. I spent a long time locked up... time that I was sober for the first in memory. This is when my life began to shift. I found a 12-step program and can proudly say that I am in long-term recovery. My time incarcerated led to two books, both published by Llewellyn Worldwide. They are guides on how to embrace a spiritual path while one is incarcerated. I have a contract for book number three. This past spring I graduated with my BS in Integrative Healthcare and a 3.12 GPA. It had been a lifelong goal that I, at one point, thought to never accomplish. There are many stories still left in me--An exploration of mental and incarceration, several fiction works that show that heroes can be people no one thought anything of, my own story, works of horror--Stories as diverse as my interests. By getting my postgrad I hope to increase my literary skills and become worthy to tell the stories dwelling in my heart and head. People, especially those who have been at the lowest points of life, need to know that adversity can be overcome. Through literature, I have begun to do just that. This scholarship will help me continue with my life mission. My past can't be changed. But if one person learns from my story, grows from it, or simply learns that they are not alone, my career will be one of great success.
    I Am Third Scholarship
    Ashley Collins 4/4/2022 Ashleydcollins111@gmail.com I remember a time, not long ago, when I did not have dreams for my future. I grew up in a household where violence was currency, the sound of bone hitting flesh was my lullaby, and the sound of my mother pleading for it to end became a core memory. When I was twelve, my father went to prison and my testimony helped put him there. I saw this as act as the ultimate betrayal, even though I knew of no other way to save my mother’s life. The next 20 years of my life would be filled with a self-talk narrative that said, “little girls who betray their fathers do not get to dream.” So, I didn’t. My teenage years and early adulthood were painful. Insert scenes of tragedy, rape, drug abuse, and incarceration and you begin to paint a picture of what these years were like for me. The saddest part of all was that back then, I believed I deserved nothing better. Now, let’s fast forward several years to the time when I start to dream. My dreams started off simple, yet I wouldn’t say easy. I wanted to graduate college, so I started taking steps and achieved this dream last spring. I then dreamt to publish a book, and thanks to some supportive people, I’m about to publish my second. It was around the time of these two accomplishments that I also entered long-term recovery. The successful completion of projects, plus the support I received from my recovery community showed me that perhaps I too was allowed to dream. Then came time for me to come up with new dreams, like traveling to Europe. This is something I completed last fall. Then, with the launch of my book, came podcast and radio interviews, a writing workshop, book signings, and the beginnings of a career. Perhaps many people would have considered their dreams complete, but I am just getting started. My first two books were designed as guides to help the incarcerated and newly released populations find a spiritual foothold, one with the potential to guide them away from the habits that lead to recidivism. These were labors of love that I did not know would develop into a career. Now, my dream is to keep writing books. Some for fun. Some are designed to inspire. And even one that explores the link between untreated mental health disorders and incarceration, using my dad’s story as the basis. I dream of inspiring others with my work. I dream of being one of only a few formerly incarcerated authors to write about something besides incarceration. I dream of normalizing second chances. Just imagine if one person is inspired to change their life, what ripples could filter through society? How could they stop a cycle from even starting? This is the vision I see for my work. In grad school, I will hone my literary skills and develop a voice that is uniquely mine and use to advocate for others to do the same. Drop by drop, the world will change.
    BJB Scholarship
    1. The home I was born into was full of violence. Before I knew how to read, I knew how to put up walls. When my dad went to prison, it was my testimony that helped put him there. I was twelve. The subsequent years were followed by isolation, self-loathing, and neglect. It is not surprising that by 20's I was addicted to drugs. When I found the rooms of recovery several years ago, it was the first time anyone had ever cared about what happened to me. It was the first time I had a supportive community. Without this support recovery from drug addiction would not have been possible. Within this community, I have many positions of service and I work with other women to help them with their recovery process. On a larger scale, I serve my community by writing books about finding and maintaining spirituality in prison and while on parole. On podcasts, I advocate for the rights of these individuals and the importance of a system overhaul. Other books in the works include one based on my father's incarceration. It will examine the relationship between untreated/undertreated mental health issues and incarceration. This correlation would be shocking to most people. I give back with my words, it is a gift I am blessed to be able to utilize in such a way. 2. I talked a bit about the books I have planned, believe me, there are many more. Some fiction and some non-fiction. In my immediate future, grad school in London. I spent the first few decades of my life not wanting to have dreams because I didn't think dreams came true for people like me. The last few years have found me not only having dreams but achieving them. I dreamt of getting my degree and I did. I dreamt of writing a book, so I wrote two. I wanted to host a workshop, checked that off too. I dreamt of traveling and last fall I went to London. I fell in love with the city. Some of the greatest authors the world has ever known have called London home. Since I came home, London has beckoned me back each and every day. I dream of getting my MA in Creative Writing and sharing my stories, so many stories, with the world. I dream of spending days in museums and being inspired in new ways. My future is bright. Indeed, I didn't always feel this way. But now I know that absolutely anything I want to achieve is possible because I put in the work, consistently. One of my biggest challenges this past year has been coming up with new goals for my life. Having risen to the challenge my list includes: flying first-class, attending an event in my honor, learning to scuba dive, and being an artist in residence. As my career grows, my goals will change and get bigger. I am no longer afraid of seeing just how much I can accomplish.
    Jameela Jamil x I Weigh Scholarship
    Many times in my life I have been humbled. It is pertinent to give a bit of background so you can understand how I ended up on my particular path. The home I was born into was full of violence. Before I knew how to read, I knew how to put up walls. When my dad went to prison, it was my testimony that helped put him there. I was twelve. The subsequent years were followed by isolation, self-loathing, and neglect. It is not surprising that by 20's I was addicted to drugs. They numbed me to the point where I didn't have to feel. Equally unsurprising is the fact that I found myself in prison before the age of 30. Unlike most though, this is where my story started to get better. There were two chaplains that came in every month and provided spiritual counseling to any who wanted it, regardless of faith group. They were the ones who comforted me after my grandmother's death. They helped reawaken my interest in matters of the spirit. Years later, I had beat the odds of recidivism and was a free woman in society. A chance encounter brought the chaplains back into my life. I was presented with an opportunity to take a program into the same prison that had housed me. For several years I taught a class in women's spirituality at two different prisons. The women inside were starving for something genuine and real. The incarcerated communities in this country are neglected and forgotten. It has become easier to pretend that they don't exist. So, when someone shows up who has been where they are and has exited the other side, it provides hope. Hope is a rare commodity in prison. My service didn't stop there. My work with these women made me want to reach more incarcerated individuals and let them know that they don't have to go back. Just before the pandemic, I was given the opportunity to do this when I got my first book contract for Paganism for Prisoners. It is essentially a manual for how to find and feed your spiritual side in an unspiritual place like a prison cell. My second contract was for Paganism on Parole, to help the newly released use spiritual matters to navigate the hardships of almost freedom. Do not be fooled, yes I will make some income from each of these, but they are true labors of love to provide hope to populations everyone turns a blind eye towards. These books inspired me to make writing my full-time career. I still have many books to write before I can quit my day job. But at least two more will be designed with this same altruistic undertone. One, in particular, will examine my dad's untreated mental health and how that contributed to the crimes he was convicted of. Untreated, and undertreated, mental health plays a large part in incarceration in this country. As my career advances, I want to use my unique experience, with addiction and recovery, to normalize having these conversations. I may never see the direct impact of my work, but all I need to do is inspire one person to change their life and my career will be a resounding success.
    Bold Love Yourself Scholarship
    I love that I am open-minded. Now, when I say this, I don't mean it the way that most people do. I mean that I am genuinely able to look at and appreciate a viewpoint that contradicts my own. One of the lessons I have learned in life is that I do not have to agree with a person's ideas or outlook in order to engage in a conversation about it. All too frequently, and more by the day, human beings get corralled into a "you vs me" mentality. Really what we should be doing is saying, "your viewpoint is different than mine. While mine is unlikely to change, I would still like to understand why you see the world differently. This is something I pride myself on doing. I don't get roped into the linear thought of "A" is good and "B" is bad. Even if most people think that "B" is bad, does that make it so? Or should we be challenging ourselves to try and see the perspective of another? I love that I do not cling to my views so steadfast that I become rigid and unchangeable. I love that I can let my opinions change when presented with new information.
    Bold Art Matters Scholarship
    My favorite piece of art is Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais. The reason I love this piece so much is that I know the story that goes with it. The woman who posed for that painting was named Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal and her tragic story gives 'Ophelia' a place in my heart, even though she posed for other paintings. She was roughly 23 when that piece was painted. She floated for weeks in the water so that Millais could get the brush strokes right. If memory serves, she got quite sick and almost died. In February of 1862, at the age of 32, she died of a Laudanum overdose. There is still speculation if this was accidental or intentional as she was battling depression after a miscarriage. Here story doesn't end there though. Her husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti, buried her with a collection of his poetry. Several years later, Rossetti's career is virtually nonexistent. He gets the idea to dig up Elizabeth and retrieve the book of poems. He does, but the poems do nothing to revive his dead career. He wished to be buried anywhere but in the same grave as Elizabeth Siddal. But the universe is quite funny sometimes and that is exactly where he is buried. When I went to Highgate cemetery I made a point to go visit Elizabeth Siddal. It was somber but I felt the tragedy of her story while I was there and told her I am sorry she had to share a grave with someone who disrespected her rest. Every time I see 'Ophelia' I remember Siddal's story. Because I remember I help keep her memory alive.
    Bold Dream Big Scholarship
    My dream life includes travel and being a professional author. Both of these are well underway. I have published two books in the past two years and I am under contract with my publisher for a third. To hone my craft, I applied to grad school in London. This will not only add depth to my writing but London is a connection point to other European cities. You should understand that it is only in the last few years that I have even allowed myself to dream. I grew up in a household where violence was currency. Though I have worked hard to overcome the trauma of my childhood and its influence, some parts will never go away. That is why it is even more important for me to follow my dreams. If someone from a tainted and troubled past can overcome adversity, then write about and have people read about it, those people might realize they do not have to be limited by their past. My dream life involves interviews, publicity, and speaking candidly about issues others are afraid to address. My dream involves works of fiction and non-fiction and some that fall in between. This life won't have to involve me swimming in a sea of cash. Instead, my dream is to one day have someone tell me that my book changed their life. That is how I know it will all be worth it.
    Ethel Hayes Destigmatization of Mental Health Scholarship
    I was born into violence. My dad used to beat my mom senselessly. Though most of my memories from childhood have been blanked out as if someone shook an etch-a-sketch, I still clearly remember what my mother sounds like begging for her life. When you're a child, especially one isolated from others, you get the sensation that something is different about your household, but you can't put your finger on what. For twelve years I lived in a household where violence was currency. One day my father got angry and hit me with a broom. I remember showing my mom the bruise as if it was a first-place trophy. At twelve, my father was arrested on suspicion of sending a bomb to a cop. If social media had been a thing back then, his trial would still be a meme floating around. Even without it, the cameras were frequently in my face and all the kids I went to school with knew, they teased me relentlessly. They jumped out of my way saying that my dad would bomb them. I wanted to die but then no one would be left to protect my mother. After the trial mom moved us to a small town. There was nothing to do, few resources, and she worked, leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere for days on end. I hurt so bad I couldn't even cry. I stuffed the trauma deep inside hoping it would never see the light of day. And convinced that all the kids knew the secret I harbored, I drew ever more inward. By the end of high school, I had discovered drugs. First alcohol and weed, but within a couple of years I was a meth addict. For a kid looking for an escape, anything can become one. So I continued through life, high, sleeping around, never really sure what was real and what was a product of my lack of sleep. I lost everything and still, all I wanted was to get high so I didn't have to feel. By my late 20's I was facing felonies, a lot of them. I spent some time in rehab and prison. This is where my life started to change. In prison, everyone has a job. In most, you make less than a dollar a day. My job included doing hard, manual labor in big fields. My crew harvested pumpkins, pulled weeds, and cut firewood mostly, but it got us out of the facility. It is odd to think about now, but that was the first time I remember feeling free. I was determined to not lose my earned time, so I stayed to myself on days when I didn't work. Our library had books on spirituality and history... I ate them up. I could not learn enough or know enough to quench my thirst for knowledge. Two chaplains came in regularly who, though they served the pagan faith, were open to any and all inmates. When I was released on parole, this quest for knowledge continued. I took classes in spirituality. Then I ended up teaching the classes. When I was done with parole, I volunteered at the prisons. I figured, if I could get through parole, anybody could. My goal was to share this, to be a living example that a DOC sentence does not have to be the end-all-be-all. I've tried to define that feeling many times. Seeing someone believe, for the first time, that prison doesn't have to be the end of life. That though it is difficult, it is possible to not go back. It is possible to become more than the stigma and the actions associated with your past. My time in DOC, and volunteering, inspired two, soon to be three, books. These books led to several podcast interviews, a radio interview, and a chance to present for women's history month. These books have refueled my love of writing and inspired other projects, both fiction and non-fiction in nature. My first book is about how to have a spiritual connection to the Divine when you are in an unspiritual place like a prison. The second is about carrying this spirituality into parole. The third is about manifesting change for those who may or may not have experience with incarceration. Another will focus on the connection between untreated mental health and incarceration. It is based on my father's own story. It is my way of forgiving him and making his death in a prison cell not be in vain. To me, there is no greater form of giving back than to provide a message that will last long past me. Recovery has also been a huge part of how I have overcome the mental illnesses that could have kept me caged. I am proud to say that I am in long-term recovery. I do service, have worked steps, have sponsees, friends, and actual life. I am at the beginning of what looks to be a very promising career. My goals are big. The reason they get to be so big is that I've already completed the other ones. I wanted to travel to Europe, so I did. I wanted to graduate college, and I did, with a 3.12 during COVID nonetheless. I wanted to write a book, I did. So now I get to challenge myself and see how far I can really go.
    Lost Dreams Awaken Scholarship
    Recovery changed everything for me. Ten years ago, I had no hope for any kind of future. The traumas of my past combined with my rampant drug use meant that I did not dare to dream. I didn't think I was worthy of dreams. I am several years into a program of recovery. In the past three and a half years I have graduated college, written two books, presented a writing workshop, been accepted to grad school, and received several other certifications. But recovery is not just about taking. Recovery is about giving back. So, yes I am of service to my 12-step fellowship, I sponsor, and I carry a strong message when I speak. But I also get to carry a strong message outside the rooms of recovery. My two books are both to help the incarcerated and those on parole. When I appear on podcasts I get to talk about the need for a systemic overhaul of how we approach addiction. My bachelor's degree is in Integrative Healthcare which focuses on healing the body, the spirit, the mind, the whole of a person. That's what recovery does. If a person will let it happen, recovery can help us elevate and become the best version of ourselves.
    Hobbies Matter
    I've always known that I was meant to travel and explore different cultures. When I was little I wanted to be an anthropologist so I could go live in the middle of the Amazon. For me, it is about more than just going to a place and seeing the sights. To me, travel is about immersion. I want to be dropped in the middle of a culture and absorb it. The history of a place is of particular delight. When I went to London, there were moments throughout the city when I could almost hear the horse-drawn carriages and see the people bustling around, living their lives. There is a term, sonder, which means to be aware that everyone who passes you by is living a life just as complex and vivid as your own. Now imagine this feeling, but for people who lived centuries ago. When I travel, I want to know the people who once lived in a place... intimately, deeply, as if they are family. Many of their stories are secrets kept by time. In the right place though, if one knows how to listen, whispers of these bygone lives can be felt in the hum of the place. In its very essence. There are other great aspects to traveling, the food, the people, the sights, the legends, all of these get filed away. See, I am an up-and-coming author and the better I can understand people, past, present, and future, the more detailed and realistic I can write their lives. I may never know every step that a person took. But if I can better understand their outlook on the world I can help resurrect some of these long-forgotten voices. In this way, this small way, they remain immortal. Perhaps it is cliche to say that travel is my hobby. But when someone undertakes the personal responsibility of discovering the voices that carry themselves in the memory of that place, well it is no longer travel just to travel. It becomes travel that changes a person. It becomes travel that inspires a person. And it becomes travel that forever alters a life.
    Bold Generosity Matters Scholarship
    Too often people make the mistake of thinking that generosity only applies to financial matters. The generosity of spirit can have a much greater impact. Ten years ago, I was in prison. It's true. But as difficult as it was to be there, it was the first time I experienced the generosity of spirit. Two volunteer chaplains drove three hours one way, every month to provide spiritual guidance to those of us who dwelt not just in a physical prison, but in a spiritual one as well. They opened their classes to any who wanted to attend, regardless of their faith group. When my grandmother died, they not only told me but sat with me while I cried enough to fill an ocean. They never sought conversions or any gain except for that which naturally comes from this type of work. When I got out of prison, the path they set me on was nurtured, and instead of becoming a recidivism statistic, I got to do something with my life. Before Covid, I went into these same prisons that once housed me and showed, by example, that a prison sentence doesn't have to be a life sentence. This later inspired me to write two books, one that deals with maintaining spirituality while incarcerated and the other that deals with maintaining spirituality while on parole. Writing is addictive. True to form plans for my future books focus on mental health and incarceration and a telling of my story. I am not writing these to get rich, few authors achieve that purpose. But if one person corrects their course and starts making different choices, just imagine the ripples that will form.
    William M. DeSantis Sr. Scholarship
    Ten years ago, I was in prison. You wouldn't know it to look at me now, at least that's what people tell me. That was a low point in my life. One that today I get to be grateful for. You may be wondering how anyone can be grateful for a DOC number, but it was this segway into the abyss that put me on the path I now walk. It probably comes as no surprise that prison is not a very fun place. But while I was there, I worked one of the most physically demanding jobs in any prison. They call it farm crew. And we went out every morning and did grueling manual labor in farm fields. Harvesting pumpkins and weeding acres of crops by hand. It was out there, with the sun shining on my aching body that I felt free for the first time in a long time. This is not the place to go into all the details of my childhood filled with trauma that ultimately led to my drug use. But I will say, I was sober and I knew what was expected of me. Feeling the earth under my fingernails and getting to put a tomato, fresh from the vine, on my bologna sandwich, humbled me. It gave me a clarity I had never before experienced. To this day I can't tell you exactly why, with the jail and treatment centers, why it was this experience in the field that changed me. But it did. I started devouring books in the library on spirituality. Any free time I devoted to searching for what I felt in that field. When I got out, my quest for spiritual growth continued. I took classes, then later taught those classes. Pre-covid I was a 3x a month volunteer within the women’s prisons. That's right, the one I was once at. I taught them how to use that time for something positive. My work in the Department of Corrections led to a book, Paganism for Prisoners, that broaches a subject few people are talking about, how to remain spiritual in prison. Llewellyn loved it so much they are publishing the sequel, Paganism on Parole, and have given me a contract for a third book. I am in the process of building something great out of my life, regardless of the wreckage of my past. I sit here in front of my laptop as a college grad with a high GPA. As if getting a BS and writing wasn't enough to keep me busy, in the last three years I have also completed my DBT certification, become ordained clergy, gotten reiki II attuned, participated in two cohorts, and become a member of the Society of Authors, the International Women’s Writing Guild, and the National Society of Leadership and Service. Quite an impressive resume for someone who, statistically speaking, should have never made it further than a jail cell. If I stopped and got some 9-5 job, no one would blame me. My life would still be a success story full of recovery and overcoming adversity. I get to pay my dues by passing this knowledge on to others. I want everybody who has ever, or is currently, serving time to know that it does not have to be the end of their story. It took a lot of dabbling in other areas to discover that I have the talent, the organization, the motivation, and the desire to be a full-time writer. Inside me, there are many stories, some painful, a few happy, but all have wisdom to bestow.