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From Surviving to Living
From Surviving to Living

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In November 2013, my world was shattered when I received the gut-wrenching news that my youngest son, Tim, had been rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. I wasn’t by his side to offer comfort and support. No, I was locked away in prison, grappling with the overwhelming weight of emotional turmoil and isolation.

I share emotional struggles I faced, from the agonizing wait for updates about Tim’s condition to the crushing weight of depression and loneliness that permeates every aspect of life behind bars.

I discuss de-humanization and powerlessness and correlation it has on emotional wellness. Are you suffering from anxiety and stress? Do you have trust issues? I understand. Learn the secret of trust and discover steps you can take to begin healing today.


Do you suffer from stress and anxiety? Have circumstances left you worried or scared?

Join me on my journey through the prison system, where information is scarce, decisions are dictated, and agency is stripped away. From frightening news to the dehumanizing effects of prison, discover with me the secret of real power.

I’ll reveal the secret of trust and steps toward peace you can take today. Listen until the end – you don’t want to miss a word.

It is November 2013 – Prison staff retrieved and delivered me to my caseworker. Social Services in Washington state had called. My youngest son Tim, aged 11, was in hospital for emergency surgery. Scared, I had many questions. My caseworker had no information. It would be many days before I received an update.

I entered prison with a strong sense of self-efficacy, which, according to the article Self-Efficacy: The Foundation of Agency, means believing in your own ability to plan and carry out actions needed to achieve certain goals. If people don’t think they can make a difference through their actions, they’re not likely to even try. So, believing in your effectiveness is the basis for taking action.

I sought information and knowledge as keys to strategic decision making. Prison starves one of information. I’d now suffered data deficit for years.

Are you in the middle of a challenging circumstance? Do you or a loved one have difficult decisions to make? How important is good information to your decision making?

Prison, a small town, is designed holistically for lifelong care. Onsite can be found library, chapel, gym, clinic, education, cafeteria, job sites, and more. I had a daily work schedule, planning my day around it. Prison sabotages daily agency – daily plans, too.

Appointments made for an inmate outside their work schedule are not usually told in advance to an inmate, in order to prevent the their ability to future plan. Future plan for what I have no idea. At first I found that odd. It is odd, dehumanizing.

According to the research article The Impact of Power on Humanity: Self-Dehumanization in Powerlessness, “Power allows people to control outcomes with respect to both the environment and the self. This control is considered to be a fundamental human need; therefore, it follows that powerlessness will disrupt an individual’s sense of humanity…

Daily interactions in an unequal relationship appear sufficient to cause us to see ourselves as less human. As the ability to make choices, have freedom, and be able to think in different ways are all qualities thought to be central to human nature, powerlessness lead us to feel we are losing these essential qualities.

In prison, a dizzying array of the unexpected always left me feeling inhibited, ungrounded. Failure to appear somewhere in the prison on time was a reason to receive discipline, yet advance notice of an appointment or event was rarely provided to me. I felt constantly tense, threatened with the unknown and unknowable. It was at this time that I was threatened with seg again.

One morning my name appeared on the roster for a 1pm Property appointment. I also started work at 1pm. Unsure where I should go first I asked for help. Guards and staff offered me no solution.

Chaos reigned here but Punishment ruled. Everyone’s best guess – go to Property first; so I did.

I made a mistake, however, when I signed out, and a recent inmate escape attempt made this worse for me as it had staff on edge. At the time Shakopee prison had no fence. A recent arrival had raced past a guard into neighboring properties. The guard didn’t chase, rolling her eyes as she hit the alarm. Guards quickly found the inmate, hiding in nearby bushes, and she was given an additional 5 years to serve.

A week later I now leaned against the wall across from Property, mentally urging the shuttered window up so I could hurry to work. I’d fast-walked it, a ridiculous hustle – arms straight, elbows locked, legs churning. We were never allowed to run nor jog (it might give the impression of an escape attempt). I was first in line.

Without a fence Shakopee managed inmate locations using sign-out books and locked buildings. Hourly, buildings opened, people moved here and there, then buildings closed. Work sites reported in, sign-out books were reviewed.

 I’d signed out to go to work as usual at 1pm, however at Property, not work, I waited. This was my mistake, not indicating my stop at Property in the sign out book. After the buildings closed, my worksite reported in without me and I was officially missing.

Just then Property opened for business and alarms ripped across the campus. Bundled in my winter coat, holding an armful of books I sighed. ‘Great, a delay,’ I thought. I had no idea. Radios squawked to life across the counter. “We have a missing inmate. AHO. I repeat, missing inmate. AHO.”

Surprised, I pushed off the wall and spoke into the chaos. “I’m Aho.” No one noticed. I cleared my throat and repeated louder, “I’m Aho. I’m right here!” Heads whipped up. Behind the counter an older guard slapped her hand on the counter and spat at me, “Where’s your ID badge?”

It was pinned to my shirt, trapped under layers of winter clothing. Shifting books in my arms I struggled to reach for it. My coat zipper caught and my books slipped to the floor with a crash. Pounding the counter the guard demanded, “WHERE’S YOUR ID BADGE!!”

Stunned I froze. Time stopped, and everyone held their breath. With shaking hands I stepped to the counter, freeing my badge with a snap. “Here,” I said, placing it before her.

Jerking the card to her nose, she squinted. “Next time a guard asks you to do something, you don’t ignore it! Understand?” She growled. “You do it!” she snarled. She peered over her glasses at me, scowling.

Suddenly more guards swooped in, grabbing me by my elbows and lifting me off my feet. Quickly my pockets were searched, turned inside out, and I was yanked down the hallway to a holding room. Tossed inside, a metal door clanged behind me.

Left alone I shuffled to the metal bunk and sat. I studied the block wall. Somehow graffiti was on it. I read it. Words were scratched into the paint of the bunk. I read that too. I laid down and cried.

I lay there for hours. Sometimes a guard would come, peaking through the small square window in the door. I ignored them. Once a guard came to taunt me. “I heard you had a real bad attitude at the Property window! Gave the guards there a real hard time!” I didn’t know how to respond so I didn’t. I cried harder.

Eventually released I was sent to my room and given DLOPs for being in an unauthorized area. I felt wrung out.

Timmy recovered and from hospital he was placed in foster care. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed my depression came back and I began missing work at the gym. I was fired in December and placed on UI. I would spend the next 3 months locked in my room 21 hours a day.

UI means unemployed. Warehoused. I had little money. Didn’t matter, I lacked opportunity to make calls. And while Tim remained in foster care I’d been forgotten as his parent. While I’d been assigned a Washington state public attorney, no effort had been made to contact me.

Finally in February I risked asking a guard if I may call my attorney. He said yes and I did. “Yes?” she answered, surprised to be hearing from me.

“Hi,” I responded. “I have not received any news about my son since last November, and now it is February. I was told he had emergency surgery and then went into foster care. You are my attorney? How is he? When can I speak to him? How do I contact my son?”

Surprise leaked out of her voice as she answered, “No one has contacted you?”

It was my turn to be surprised. Who would contact me? What should I expect? “No, no one,” I threw back. “What is going on?”

“You have a right to visit your son, which in your case would be by phone. You have a right to all information and reports about him as well. I’m surprised no one has contacted you before now,” she rejoined.

I thought but did not say, ‘Why didn’t you contact me, aid me in acquiring my rights?’ Instead I asked, “How can we start that process? Let’s get that done now, please.”

Soon phone calls were arranged around my limited UI schedule, made more challenging by a 2 hour time difference. I looked forward to receiving a job again so I could be more available. Also upsetting was a sudden price hike to call Tim, from 50 cents to $5 for a fifteen minute call.

Torn in many directions, I struggled to support all of my children emotionally best I could. I switched to writing more letters and calling less often. I also began selling jewelry and sketches for money.

Social services reports began arriving from Washington. Horrible reports. Crushing. Painful to read, they were also outrageous. Prison shakedowns, raids, riots and lockdowns could prevent me from making a scheduled phone visit with my son bu failure on my part to call Tim for any reason would be written up by Tim’s caseworker as “a refusal on Ms. Aho’s part, an uncaring mother, to visit her son.” Often I cried in my room during a prison lockdown just feet from the phone during a scheduled visit, unable to call. I raged against these lies and mischaracterizations. I grew to hate Social Services.

The article The Impact of Power on Humanity also tells us that:

When people compare themselves to what they think is important, it can affect how they see themselves as human beings. Human nature traits are qualities really fundamental to being human, like empathy and emotions, and they come out when we interact with others. If someone feels like they’re being treated as an object, it can affect their sense of self and cause them to emotionally shut down. These people may report a range of emotional issues such as emotional numbing.

This was happening to me. I became increasingly withdrawn, disconnected and numb. I lay in my room for hours, locked in. My weight increased to 190 pounds on my 5 foot frame. I hated life, myself.

In March 2014 I was assigned a job in maintenance. I had nearly 2 years to go before I would experience hope.

Men of low degree [in the social scale] are emptiness (futility, a breath) and men of high degree [in the same scale] are a lie and a delusion. In the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. 10 Trust not in and rely confidently not on extortion and oppression, and do not vainly hope in robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them. 11 God has spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God. Psalm 62:9-11

Listener, are you worried or anxious about something today? Many things? I understand. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 6:

“Therefore do not worry and be anxious, saying, What are we going to have to eat? or, What are we going to have to drink? or, What are we going to have to wear?…

But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.” Matthew 6:31,33

I didn’t want to be anxious; I wanted to be taken care of, so I was eager to understand what Jesus said here. I wondered, ‘What does Jesus mean by “His kingdom”?’ Since Jesus listed it as the first thing to seek, it must be very important!

Have you ever heard of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ a look and find puzzle? Waldo, wearing a distinctive outfit, is placed in a busy picture for the viewer to find. This would be an impossible puzzle if you had the wrong idea of who or even what Waldo was.

So let’s talk about a kingdom. A kingdom is basically a sphere of influence, an area of power.  It can be a place to live, like a country, or invisible, like social media influencers, whose own kingdoms would be their followings on Facebook or Tiktok.

God created everything, and everything is His, however Jesus said something very interesting about the focus of His kingdom:

Jesus answered, My kingdom belongs not to this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My followers would have been fighting to keep Me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, My kingdom is not from here (this world); [it has no such origin or source]. John 18:36

Where is it then, what is it? Did you know that the word ‘heart’ is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible? It is. God says “I am the Lord,” about 150 times in the Bible. That makes a heart emphasized 5 times as much. So what is meant by a heart?

The Hebrew word for heart is Lebab, and it means inner man, mind or will. So what is Jesus saying then in Matthew 6? Let’s read it again with this in mind:

But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His sphere of influence in the mind, will, and spirit, and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right)…

Listener, This begins in your own heart, His sphere of influence over you. Does He have any influence over you? How much? And how well do you know His ways of doing and being right?

If your answer is, “not enough,” you are not alone. We are born rebellious to Him, His ways unnatural to us. Paul says in Romans

“No one is righteous, no, not one…

All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong; no one does right, not even one!” Romans 3:10,12

This is why Jesus urges us to seek out His ways of doing and being right, to seek out His influence, to ask Him to be Lord – really be Lord  – of our hearts.

Jesus asks us, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

When we are king of our own hearts, we have reason to worry. We have seen our results, and know our limits. God says in Proverbs “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

The secret to trust, however is that there cannot be any given without first taking a risk. They are inextricably intertwined. It’s the risk taken, and safe landing after, that creates trust. Otherwise trust is just an idea never followed through.

Have you trusted in Jesus today? Have you taken that risk? Have you followed through with trusting God? I do not know your situation, but God does, and He tells us how to begin. Philippians chapter 4 says:

“Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.

And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

So listener, In every circumstance, in everything, with definite requests and prayer – with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. And then God’s peace shall be yours. Wonderful! Let’s start today!

Dear Jesus, I pray for the person listening right now, and I pray for me, help us to seek You and desire Your influence in our hearts. Teach us your ways of doing and being right, remind us to pray and thank you in everything. Amen

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