Leading the Way
By Claudia Gonzalez
Photo via Sholonda Jackson
Oakland, Calif.— Sholonda Jackson recently celebrated 12 years of being sober.
Proud of this achievement, the 46- year-old Odes Case Manager at Operation Dignity, maintains she is “very fortunate” to have come this far. She never imagined she would be in this position.
Having received a Bachelor’s degree from Cal State, East Bay, in a couple of months, she will be entering graduate school, hoping to obtain her Master’s degree in Social Work.
On top of her work obligations and education, Jackson is also very involved in her community. Serving as is a leader with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), she constantly shares her story with the intention of empowering others.
Fueled to change her community, Jackson says she overcompensates because she believed she was a “bad person” for a long time.
Experimenting with drugs at the age of 18, Jackson quickly became an addict. But her life of partying came with consequences and her actions resulted in a 16-month prison sentence.
Trapped in the cycle of incarceration and addiction, Jackson became a repeat offender, ending up in prison 13 additional times.
Finally in 1998, the parole board released her, citing that she was “hopeless’ and would eventually return to prison again.
Determined to beat those odds, Jackson decided it was time to begin a new way of life. With help from a public defender, she finally managed to stay sober. Celebrating her 12 year milestone last month reinforced that she had finally obtained redemption.
Reflecting on her past, Jackson maintains that she would have never spent so many years in prison if someone had just helped her.
“Not one time did anyone tell me ‘you might have a problem,’” added Jackson. “ I really spent a long time thinking I was a horrible human being when all I need was assistance and direction.”
The passage of Proposition 47 in 2014 helped Jackson obtain the much needed relief she deserved.She was also able to apply for a Certification of Rehabilitation. However, she contends that these legal avenues are not enough to shake the stigma of incarceration.
“Prop 47 is a start, but it leaves out a lot of people,” continued Jackson. “ We need to work hard to make policy changes that are more inclusive because everyone deserves a second chance.”
Prop 47, as it turns out, only alleviates non-violent drug and petty offenses. It also has a 2017 expiration date for individuals to reclassify convictions before Prop 47 went into effect.
With a little over a year left, Jackson says it is imperative that a holistic approach is taken to reach people. This includes working with together with various agencies and interconnecting issues such as mass incarceration and immigration.
Organizers, and leaders like Jackson, have been leading the Prop 47 work throughout the state. Hosting forums, clinics, and workshops, they have managed to reach around 200,000 people. However, statistics show that one million Californians could potentially benefit from this reclassification law.
With time ticking, Jackson argues that more needs to be done to reach people. She cites the lack of positive media attention as one of the biggest barriers.
Law enforcement is also continually spewing misinformation to the public by falsely attributing questionable statistics about increased crime to Prop 47.
“I share my story, but I am not special, “insists Jackson while noting that other formerly incarcerated folks have also changed their lives around. “A lot of people who have reclassified their felonies under Prop 47 are doing amazing things.”
“I did a lot of wrong, but now I am using that experience to help people do right.”