Convicted Pressure was conceived of by Dominica Sharda, Freedom Fighter with Emergent Justice. She has been involved in every aspect of this project from concept to blog image design to selecting the people whose stories we will initially share. And so it is only fitting that the 1st Story we share be hers.
I am Dominica Sharda, a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan who is determined to rewrite my story. I was raised by my paternal grandmother and had a troubling upbringing that included sexual abuse and homelessness. By the age of 17, I was a single mother who struggled to stay focused and finish my senior year of high school. I was overwhelmed and had no sense of direction. My life quickly began to spiral out of control. While fighting for survival, I lost all awareness of myself. It was not long until I also lost touch with my family and created a world where my only option was to provide for and protect myself. Consumed by the chaos of the streets and entangled in an abusive relationship, I found my head in darkness and my back against the world. Forced to make an unimaginable choice, one bad decision altered my entire life and seized 15 years of my freedom.
Refusing to let my past define me, I vowed to turn a new leaf while serving time behind bars. During my incarceration, I remained actively involved in my son’s life and rekindled some family ties that were estranged. I obtained my G.E.D. and began my journey to attain an Associate Degree. I also earned several Vocational Certifications including a national certification in Food Service Hospitality Management: Safe Serv, medication training, and became a licensed auto mechanic.
I worked with several organizations during my incarceration, including Safe House Women’s Shelter, The National Lifers Association that was working to make legislative changes, and Y.E.P. where I served as a mentor to the youth within the facility. I reacquainted myself with purpose, poise, and passion. I was on a mission to become a walking example of resilience and was dedicated to bringing others along the path as well. I was consistently involved in programming designed for rehabilitation. I also initiated, and peer-facilitated, programming that catered to other incarcerated women.
I was released in January 2020. While I was beyond ecstatic to regain my freedom, society wasted no time reminding me that life outside of prison could also be grueling and uneasy at times. I realized that hand-outs were not a given and was disappointed to learn that not everyone was happy that I was home; some of my own family included. Despite the odds against me, I was determined. And my pursuit to become an impeccable woman and a devoted mother continues.
In July of 2020 I became involved with a nonprofit organization where I began to learn the world of organizing. I fell in love. Six months later I transitioned with a team, and together we founded Emergent Justice, a project of Tides Advocacy. Emergent Justice is a Black woman-led organization of system-impacted, multi-generational, BIPOC who have been traumatized by racial injustice. As one of the early team members I helped define our mission, vision and values. Our social change work is creating a culture of unity, hope and resilience in people’s lives and communities throughout Michigan. I am part of the Participatory Defense Team. This is a community driven pre-trial justice approach for people facing charges, their families, and communities.
I have been asked, “What might have been different if Participatory Defense had been there for you?” I believe that my sentence would have been tremendously different. Participatory Defense offers the family a step by step support system through each stage of the criminal process and also assists families with securing the proper document necessary to aide in the defense of the client. It would have given my family a better understanding of each step of the criminal process because at the time I, myself, didn’t quit understand what was going on. And I definitely would have benefited from a social bio. Instead I felt like the only image the judge had of me was the one that the prosecutor painted. That was not who I was.
Motivated to reach beyond my limitations and share my story with the world, I told members of the Emergent Justice team about my vision for this platform. Together we have created this space – a place for sharing stories from individuals that have been silenced, ignored and bound by the pressure of conviction. This is a place for those voices to be heard.