By: Jessica L. Henry
My name is Jessica Louise Henry. I am a 39-year-old woman born and raised in Detroit. After foster care, juvenile detention centers, teen pregnancy, three rehabs, several therapists, eight jail terms, and two prison bids, my life had become scattered. I have a visual of cards spread haphazardly across the floor with many unanswered “whys” that have piled up throughout my life.
I could tell you about myself, but until you actually sit down and get to know me for yourself, you may not be able to fully appreciate my story. I am more than just my mistakes or my broken history. I am more than a statistic or the stigma that society has taken upon itself to place on me. While words fail to convey the value of my experience, my actions do far more justice.
Education has always been an important part of my upbringing, even throughout the trauma, neglect, and incarceration. In fact, because of the incarceration, my education became a priority. During my first prison bid I was able to earn my GED at age 32 after being out of school for 16 years. I had hopes of continuing my education upon my release, but my goals were hindered by barriers and self-sabotage. When I began my second prison bid, I was ready in a new way. My heart was in it. My soul was ready for redemption. After being stripped of my dignity, value, humanity, and worth due to my incarcerated state, I felt that I could reclaim what was taken by achieving greatness through my academic success.
In January of 2017, I was accepted to Jackson College’s Second Chance Pell program where I completed three associate’s degrees by August of 2019. I graduated with a 3.96 GPA and walked across the stage with High Honors. I personally gained back all my dignity, value, humanity, worth and more. I even shook the Warden’s hand proudly. It is notable to mention that my entire graduating class graduated with High Honors that day, all seventeen women.
The value that this program has brought to my life is more than I have gotten in any of my current on-campus classes. Being in the prison environment, I had a chance to learn with women who have been through life-altering experiences. We learned together with the curriculum and with our experiences in mind. We learned with pen and paper, our course materials, and little to no technology. The intimacy of our classroom, the students and professors included, cannot be matched anywhere else.
I now attend Spring Arbor University earning my bachelor’s in Social Work with a double minor in Psychology and Business. I will graduate in the spring of 2023 and move on to get my Master of Social Work (MSW). I can honestly say that now I have those scattered cards in my hand, and I can understand the “why” of it all. I know that those struggles have prepared me for this moment in my life, giving back through social work. I know that I have been prepared to help those who have or are struggling to find the assistance they need to get back on their feet. Thanks to my education and the possibilities the Second Chance Pell program afforded me during my incarceration I can say that I am back on my feet.