Darrah: How long have you been a resident of Beit T’Shuvah?

Deborah: Since October 10th, 2019, the day that I was paroled after serving 23 years in prison.

Darrah: What was it like to be in prison?

Deborah: The truth is that when I first got my sentence, I was a little scared. And then I learned how to get along in prison and because of who my co-defendants were. It made it easier for me to fit in because they assumed that I was affiliated. And then I started using drugs and drinking, and I didn’t care because at the time there was no such thing as a lifer going home. Lifers didn’t go home in 1997. So it was all right until it wasn’t all right. Until the drugs and the alcohol and the bullying and the violence…

The culmination led me to hurt my Jewish community really badly. I did something really inappropriate and I went to the hole for 13 months – I did a 13-month “shu” term. And during that time, I had a conversation with Hasham, who I didn’t know before. I was raised with religion, not faith. And I started building my relationship with Hasham and started moving forward.

A goal to heal from the inside. Free on the inside, not necessarily the outside. Prison was just a circumstance. I was in prison my whole life. And then I let it go when Hasham decided to open the gates for me.

Darrah: Was that when you got sober?

Deborah: I got sober when I was in ‘the hole’. Yes.

Darrah: How did you learn about Beit T’Shuvah?

Deborah: So we have this very small Jewish community up north. We’re in the middle of nowhere. And someone from another organization, her name is Judah Sable, used to come once a month to visit us. And she suggested that we talk to people because she was affiliated with Beit T’Shuvah.

So I started writing Carrie Newman and told her my story and we started to build a rapport. She made me work. The alternative sentencing team asked me to write on each of the covenants that we have at Beit T’Shuvah – I had to write a paragraph or a page depending on the covenant. And it was really good. I finally met Carrie when I moved down south to a different prison in 2019.

Darrah: What was it like to leave prison and re-experience the outside world?

Deborah: I’m very grateful for the gifts that I have. It’s still unbelievable to me. I wake up in the morning and I’m not in a cell and I’m out here and I have jobs and a car and friends and family and opportunities. And of course, I wouldn’t be able to have that without the loving support of the Beit T’Shuvah community. I may get upset with certain things, but my love for this community is just….there’s no limit on how much. I mean, it’s hard to explain, there’s no way to put it in words how I feel about this community. It’s the best program in the state of California, if not the United States. So knowing that I was coming here gave me a little more ease and everybody helped me move forward and they still do.

And it’s still just the most unbelievable experience- like look where we are! We’re sitting on a patio in Los Angeles, looking up at the sky and the world’s gone crazy around us, and here we are, safe in our cocoon with birds and dogs and trees and pine cones.

Darrah: Yeah, I find myself thinking about that a lot lately, too. So you find it easy to maintain a sense of gratitude?

Deborah: I find it every morning, every night, every moment. I’m grateful for the real-world problems instead of the ‘behind the wall’ problems.

Darrah: Is there anything from your experiences in the past that benefit you now, that you bring into your life moving forward? Things that you’ve learned?

Deborah: So I don’t feel that I would be the person I am if I didn’t go through, and push through, the trauma that I endured. I learned that everybody’s different, that everybody’s perspective is their truth. So there’s my truth. There’s your truth. And there’s that truth. But I accept their truth. That’s a huge thing in prison. That’s a huge thing in life. Acceptance, instead of expectations. I try to take the expectations out and just deal with what is. I try to be a better Deborah today than I was yesterday.

And violence is not the answer. All the violence that I did, all the violence I participated in, all the violence that has happened to me – and by me. Life is too short to be so angry. There are other ways to voice or to show that we don’t agree with something, it doesn’t have to be violent. We don’t know who we are harming- There’s always somebody who’s being harmed.

Darrah: Do you have any advice for someone who might just be newly incarcerated or who might be leaving prison soon?

Deborah: If you’re newly incarcerated, please stay out of the mix. You know, do your program. Take advantage of what the state of California has to offer! They have jobs. They have job corps. They have sewing. They have education. They have college. Take advantage of all those things so that you can get out early and really sit and look at your environment and realize what you’re missing and how much control they have over your life. And for someone coming out of prison, I would just say be grateful for every moment and make the most of every day.

Darrah: What are your hopes for yourself moving forward – what do you want to do?

Deborah: I want to finish my degree in social anthropology. I would like to start a domestic violence program here at Beit T’Shuvah. I would like to delve more into how domestic violence and addiction go hand in hand, and what the correlation between them is. I want to work for Beit T’Shuvah not just as a PF, but as part of the clinical team or as a counselor. That’s what I want to do.

*this piece has been slightly edited from original interview