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View of Northeast Correctional Center from Hwy 61
View of Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, Missouri, from Hwy 61 (Photo: Google Maps)

In the past year, I’ve felt the sensation of sun and wind on my skin. I watched dandelions blow in the breeze and butterflies land on flowers. I saw Philly, a black labradoodle, chase her favorite ball.

I thought these feelings of peace and joy were impossible in prison, but a lower security facility changed that.

In the Missouri Department of Corrections, each of its 20 prisons is given a classification according to the sentence lengths of the incarcerated population. In a maximum security prison, where I served nine years of my 20-year sentence, my cellmate and I spent much of our time locked in a cell, with limited ability to enjoy time outside around other people. 

Maximum security prisons have an air of hopelessness. People serving life without parole get dragged down emotionally. Tensions run high. During my time in one, it was rare to see someone on the recreation yard in a truly relaxed state of mind.

In July 2022, I transferred to a medium security prison in Bowling Green. As I began saying goodbye to friends, wondering if I would ever see them again, I was struck with anxiety.

“Who will my new cellmate be?”

“Are there other transgender women there?”

“Will I know anyone?”

I found that in the lower security prison, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

For instance, consider the beauty of the prison grounds. On my first day, I discovered flowers around the pole where the U.S. flag flies. I saw trees near my new housing unit; for years, the only trees I had seen were from a distance. I smiled when I realized I would be able to see the leaves change colors in the fall.

The grounds had flower beds filled with lilies, lilacs, tulips, mums and daisies. What made this sight even more stunning were the butterflies and hummingbirds enjoying these flowers.

Another perk is the ability to purchase craft supplies, including non-toxic paint, yarn, quilting blocks, plastic models and construction paper, to make presents for my family.

I get to play fetch with the black labradoodle, Philly, who is a service animal for the veteran’s wing. And I have the opportunity to perform for my family in the Prison Performing Arts program.

Soon, the anxiety I felt about my transfer dissolved and was replaced with hope.

More than one year later, I am in an environment where I can sit outside, close my eyes and soak up the sun. The tension has faded. I know that everyone who is incarcerated here with me is going home at some point.

While it is still a prison and we are separated from our families and our friends, the general atmosphere is one of hope. I now can be happy and at peace despite my circumstances.

My only regret is that it took nine years to discover it.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Lexie Handling is a transgender writer working on bettering herself, and learning how to crochet (which is not as easy as she first thought). She is incarcerated in Missouri.