Sije Redefines Her Story
“I worked as an aide at Mount Sinai Hospital for almost 10 years, when I got caught up as an accomplice in a case and was charged with a felony. This completely upended my life. I lost my job and the career I had built for myself.
“I had a terrible time dealing with the justice system. I was mistreated, abused, and didn’t have a voice. The system is not set up for people to receive help, they just end up giving you the harshest punishment possible. I felt like everything was going against me. I was feeling hopeless and worried that I wouldn’t recover from this.
“Anyone that knows me knows I have a big heart, that I love to learn and work hard. When I went through that process with the justice system, it’s like my light went out. I lost a part of me and was in a really dark space. I had to remind myself that I’m still me regardless of what I went through. I’m not the person that the justice system is trying to define me as, and I need to show the world who the real Sije is.
“I needed something to help me get my life back on track. It took a lot for me to build my confidence back up, and Cara helped me do that.
“I stopped letting what I went through define me as a person and looked at myself as who I really was: a wonderful person that deserves to be loved and respected.”
“I heard about Cara through a friend and they recommended that I join. I could show the judge that I went through this training and got certified to work. It would give me a good standing in court. When I first got to Cara, I was closed off. It was challenging for me to open up. It’s really hard to share things about your childhood, living in poverty, and difficult topics of that nature. But as I heard other people share their story, that encouraged me to share mine.
“Cara gave me a different outlook on life. At the time, I didn’t know many people who went through the same thing as me and made a change with their life. Finding those people and hearing those stories gave me hope and I started to feel a change in myself. I stopped letting what I went through define me as a person and looked at myself as who I really was: a wonderful person that deserves to be loved and respected.
“I wish all employers understood that just because someone made a mistake years ago, that is not who they are now. People deserve to have good paying jobs that keep them motivated to be better. If you keep getting the door shut in your face, you’re much more likely to go back to making the same mistakes as before. That’s why organizations like Cleanslate and programs like CTA Second Chance can really change someone’s life. People need a chance to grow.
“I have noticed that people with backgrounds work the hardest. They already know what they have going against them. So, every day they have to prove that they’re worthy of being there. They work a little harder, stay on the job longer, and try to be recognized. In their mind, their employer might prefer for them to not be there. So they have to go the extra mile.
“I’m now working as a Bus Operator at Chicago Transit Authority. It was always a goal of mine to drive the bus. I worked my way up in the process, I went from cleaning the buses to driving them. I made sure to prove that I have a lot to offer, regardless of the background that follows me.
“If you keep getting the door shut in your face, you’re much more likely to go back to making the same mistakes as before. People need a chance to grow.”
“My life is so much better now. I just purchased my own home and I’m making upward moves at the CTA. I want to continue being a voice for individuals who are incarcerated and involved with the justice system. I know how hard it is to get your life on track when you’re out, and how helpless you feel when you’re in there. I want to help people realize that they’re more than their mistakes and they deserve the best life has to offer.”
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