Simple tennis shoes Women
Three years ago, I bought a classic white pair of Ked tennis shoes. These were unlike any other shoes previously purchased. My running shoes all have some bright splash of color, and my other favorite shoe style consists of at least a three-inch heel. However, three years ago I was going through the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute's Community Leadership Program (CLP), and would soon be going on a walking tour of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchelville.
What better choice than a simple nondescript pair of white tennis shoes? (Hey, they went well with the casual khakis and blouse!) We toured the facilities, ate lunch with the inmates, saw their sleeping quarters, and walked through parts of the institution where inmates are not allowed access. Near the end of our visit, three inmates came in and shared their stories. While I sat listening, I glanced down at the stark white shoes, then looked up at the women and noticed that each were wearing nearly the exact same style!
A couple classmates on either side of me started to snicker, ribbing me about my "perfect" choice of footwear! I giggled, thinking how ridiculous I was to have not thought of this potential embarrassment. However, as I sat entranced with each woman's story, I suddenly became sober. You see, while many of the women serving time are repeat-offenders, struggling with drugs, fraud or other charges, many others simply made one poor choice. Just one. I shivered as I realized I could just as easily be sitting across from the group sharing a story.
Some women chose to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink. Haven't I been guilty of that myself? A young child died while under the care of another woman. Hadn't I become distracted when one of my girls was too small to leave unattended?
One incident forever changed not only these women's lives...but the lives of family, friends, co-workers...the ripple effect soon becomes too far to see.
Our purpose for visiting the prison wasn't just to tour the grounds, or hear why women end up there. Our real reason centered around how we, as a community, need to support these women once they are paroled. Most don't spend their lives behind bars; instead, many may be there for less than three years. Once paroled, each need to find work, a place to live, a way to reconnect with family and friends, as well as support when needing to remain disconnected to those who are a poor influence.
My sobering visit three years ago solidified my understanding that we each have a role to play in supporting our community...including those needing a second, third or fourth chance at a fresh start.
Those shiny, white shoes have long since worn out, but every time I see a pair of Keds, I smile, and remember how that day...and those shoes...changed everything.