• Dempris Gasque

Handcuffs and Halleluiah

You ever been through something you thought you’d never get through? The stain and residue of a decision you made, one that you couldn’t take back eating at your soul? Then you condemn yourself before anyone else has to out of guilt and shame? Begin a cycle of self-sabotage starting with helplessness and defeat as opposed to hope? Restless having relinquished all joy and purpose because your act, your “sin”, your thorn, your blemish was too much to bear? Contemplate taking your own life because what you went through keeps replaying in your mind like a 90s sitcom over and over again? You just knew it would kill you. You made a declaration that you would put your whole life on hold until sometime passed. Then had the audacity to check back and see if your open wounds had turned into battle scars, but since you weren’t satisfied you returned to your self-infliction? You felt helpless, hopeless, lost, and embarrassed?

Oftentimes our pride keeps us in bondage, we could live, we could even run and not be weary, but we dwell on what others would say. Isn’t that something? You will dress yourself up for the people that don’t even like you and be too ashamed to find comfort in those who love you. A sad reality for most of us who have ever been through anything. But pride, anger, denial can literally kill you. And humiliation will either prepare or deter you. For a while it deterred me. An academically gifted, honor student, an ambassador, first-generation student, having received honors and accolades being walked out in handcuffs and into a police car. A conversation in which what happens in the dark always comes to the light. I still remember being walked out people recording, gossiping on the phone, the fake sympathy, the looks, smirks etc. You never realize the freedom you have to fulfill your purpose until it’s threatened. 19 years old, whole life thrown away or, so I was told. Years of interviewing because my resume was impeccable, but years of no’s after a background check. One decision that cost…everything. Never mind that I graduated a year early, was a nominated White House HBCU All-Star Ambassador, and student ambassador because no employer cared that I had paid my dues to society from probation to drug tests and time away from family. Many don’t understand the inhumane treatment and the discrimination that still plagues the judicial system. The darker the skin tone, the harsher the judgement, but after sitting on that bench every month and missing class, I absolutely refused to allow my life to be defined by one case.

It was difficult and I gave up more times that I could count but there’s hope even in your helplessness. While I was going to court and missing assignments, I remember walking into my favorite professor’s class and being reprimanded for my tardiness. Too ashamed to tell him or any of my professors about my personal life, not really knowing if I would be able to finish my degree, I was silent. A habit I have finally overcome as this lesson, this tough lesson, this painful experience taught me that pride delays progress and redemption. While I was saddened, I learned that someone is always in your corner. See my advisor, CL, was always a guiding light. Her spirit alone put me at ease and no matter what I had to say, she was always there. She was practically my therapist, I, her broke client. People never understood because they didn’t know the story but pushing myself further into my career wasn’t because I was chasing wealth or any accolades, I just wanted to feel the freedom that I took for granted while I could. Misinformation plagued my case and surroundings, but I was 19 and naïve, I wasn’t asking any questions.

I didn’t know about a pardon, a seal, expungement clinic, sentence reduction, plea deal or any of those things. And no, I am not here to be of legal counsel or make excuses, I am merely sharing so that you may understand why when you read this blog I am so honest. Because I’ve lived it. I know how it feels to feel that you cannot recover, but this is my why. Why I decided to keep pushing every though I failed myself and others. I wanted to be the example I didn’t have. I wanted to remind my community, my family, my friends who felt lost and disconnected that we would thread this journey together. Court wasn’t easy and being handcuffed to that chair while in processing wasn’t either, but what happened next changed my life forever. I still don’t remember her name, but there came a lady to speak to me.

She knew my demographics, my background etc. and she didn’t yell or look at me with disgust and shame like everyone else that day. She told me that I wasn’t meant to be there, and I had so much life to live. That I was too smart to continue down this path. I’d NEVER met this woman; she was heaven sent. In the midst of a storm, a trial and tribulation, she reminded me of who I was called to be and gave me hope in a way that I cannot fully articulate in this post. I remembered her words and made sure I walked into that courtroom with dignity, respect, and remembrance of my purpose. The one I always ran from. And even after being told I would be back and to just deal with the consequences given by the court, after fulfilling my obligations less than 2 hours before it was requested that I faced jail time, I made a promise to myself that I would always pick myself back up and never return to that bench or stand. And I haven’t. I had to remember that I was worthy of a full life and that my future was mine to create.

Now everything I have accomplished, board positions, entrepreneurship, publishing, my diplomas, certificates, keynote speaking etc. mean more to me because I know that I almost didn’t make it to see these days. What was meant to cripple me indefinitely made me who I am today, resilient, strong, wise, and kind. Because I know how it feels to be lost, but I also know the work it takes to find your footing. Recently I had an interview for a position and having had so many no’s over the years, there is always anxiety during the job interview process, but this was different. When I was asked for an explanation after my background check, I didn’t refer to an explanation letter or any trainings I had completed. I gave an account of my life, took accountability, and explained why I was so passionate. And it paid off. If you’ve known someone who’s been through a similar experience, be patient. I spiraled, I self-sabotaged, experienced blackmail, slander, and even settled, too many times. My faith wavered, it did, BUT I realized that asking for forgiveness isn’t the final step, it’s a first. So, although in many seasons, some to be discussed later, I fell short, I am who I am because of the day that handcuffs came with a hallelujah when I finally understood the freedom I had to live and heal.

Peace and blessings,

Dempris Gasque

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