Let go. Sometimes our biggest obstacles are ourselves. We can’t be free of our fears or traumas or biases by holding onto them, but instead by working through them. It’s a lot easier to try to avoid your history than it is to acknowledge it for what it was; a learning experience. Everything we’ve ever been through, good or bad, was in preparation for what’s next to come and you have to be accepting of your past in order to make a better future.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Crystal.
Crystal was a young mom facing time when Avenues for Justice took her under her wing, advocating for her to receive wraparound services through their nationally recognized alternative-to-incarceration program. Through AFJ’s help, Crystal was able to graduate from high school, regain full custody of her son, and complete her sentencing. With her second chance at life, Crystal is now enrolled in college, living with her son, and leading a successful life as a law-abiding citizen.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I had my son at 18 and while at my boyfriend’s house, I ended up getting arrested after the police searched his apartment and found drug paraphernalia. Although it wasn’t mine, I was a victim of the classic “wrong place at the wrong time,” and because I had my son with me, he was immediately taken into state custody following my arrest. I didn’t get charged at the time, but when I went to visit my boyfriend in jail a week later, I was unknowingly carrying a bag from his apartment that contained contraband items. So I was then re-arrested with both charges combined, and since I was already 19, I couldn’t qualify as a youthful offender so my district attorney referred me to Avenues for Justice. I was assigned to my court advocate, Elsie Flores, who I owe everything to. She’ll tell me that I owe it all to myself, but really I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am now without her and AFJ’s guidance.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your past? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I don’t think I can chalk it up to just one story, but my life was a lot more “interesting” than most kids, although maybe that’s not the most appropriate way to phrase it. I had dropped out of school, so I had a lot more time on my hands to see things and be involved in situations that are not meant for kids. I didn’t really have parental guidance, so I had to learn and grow up kinda quickly to be able to take care of myself. So when I joined AFJ, it was a huge learning experience to be in a program with so many other kids, even younger than me, who had backgrounds similar to mine, facing charges just as bad if not heavier than mine. Yeah, it was horrible for me; dealing with two cases isn’t easy but being in AFJ’s environment helped to shape my outlook on not only my case, but the overall notion that this is an unfortunate reality that kids from marginalized communities deal with regularly.
What do you think makes Avenues for Justice stand out? Can you share a story?
AFJ is a huge inspiration to me and their work really motivates me to do something similar to what Elise, and Angel, and the rest of the AFJ team does for others. They stepped in when I didn’t have anyone else, and coming from the same backgrounds, they understood me and made me feel heard for the first time in my life. I wasn’t really close with my mom, and Elsie’s upbringing was similar to mine so she was able to act, almost as a substitution for a mother at the time. Sure, it’s their job to guide and help us, but AFJ goes above and beyond as they help the community and that’s what makes all the difference in our success within the program.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m incredibly grateful for Elsie and all the work she’s done to help get me to where I am, and of course Angel, for doing the groundwork so AFJ can continue to help kids and young people like me. I know it wasn’t always easy to work with me, and I’m sure other Participants can say the same about themselves, but AFJ doesn’t give up. They believe in us when we don’t even believe in ourselves, and they’re determined to help us get our second chance.
Through AFJ I re-enrolled into high school and I remember I had this one teacher that was very persistent in making sure I was getting my work done, which I recognize now was an incredible help. At the time I probably didn’t come off as grateful as I do now, but as a kid who was misunderstood and misguided, I needed that tough love. I needed that figure that was going to tell it to me how it was so I could get in line.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back, and to overcome obstacles. It’s very hard to overcome some situations, like depression, substance abuse and addiction, poverty, etc. but for someone to grow up in a disadvantaged community, surrounded by these factors, and not fall victim to their environment is true resilience.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?
Courage is similar to resilience in the sense that it’s the ability to overcome things, and with every obstacle you have, you are someone who has the strength to overcome the emotional and psychological damage in your life. It takes courage, and strength to do that. With that being said, the two are different in the sense that some people can have courage but not necessarily be strong-willed enough to be truly resilient. Courage and resilience may not be the same thing, but rather go hand-in-hand.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of myself a lot when thinking of resilience. In fact, that’s something that I say to myself as words of encouragement: “You’ve been through this, you can do this, this is nothing compared to what you’ve already accomplished.” I take Elsie’s advice everyday, because she reminds me that I have to take it easy and not be so hard on myself. It takes courage and resilience to continue to do even just the “regular everyday things,” because life is hard, especially after everything I’ve gone through. I don’t have to let my past define me, but I do let my past experiences guide me.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
You hear a lot of negative things that people say, friends, acquaintances, strangers on the street. My parents were always hard on me, they had no hope for me and assumed that I would fail at everything. When strangers say things about you, it’s easier to brush it off but when it’s your family, it hurts more. But when you’re able to prove your family wrong, it makes you stronger in spite of their doubt.
Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Aside from my legal case, I think the last few years following my multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2020, have really showcased my resilience — both physically and mentally. I was bed-ridden and felt like I’d never recover, losing all ambition when it felt like my body was failing me. But despite those feelings of doubt, I didn’t give up. I refused to stay in bed and get taken care of by others; I went to rehab, and was able to regain my strength to persevere. And I’m happy to say that I’m not letting my MS hold me back anymore.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I think the biggest marker of having cultivated resilience is knowing that I was able to overcome my past. When you live in a very minority side of the neighborhood, you take pride knowing that you’ve “made it out,” and that you’ve elevated beyond your neighborhood. We live in a certain kind of culture and community, where people get stuck following others down the wrong path and I’m very proud to say that I beat that statistic.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Let go. Sometimes our biggest obstacles are ourselves. We can’t be free of our fears or traumas or biases by holding onto them, but instead by working through them. It’s a lot easier to try to avoid your history than it is to acknowledge it for what it was; a learning experience. Everything we’ve ever been through, good or bad, was in preparation for what’s next to come and you have to be accepting of your past in order to make a better future.
2. Forgive yourself if you do make a mistake. Growth is not linear. We’ve heard it before; 5 steps forward, two steps back. Yeah, it may be discouraging to know that messed up, but are you then going to discredit all of the other progress made in other areas of life? Mistakes are necessary for growth, and the sooner we recognize that we can’t measure growth without mistakes as the point of comparison, the more grace we can have with ourselves.
3. Be your own inspiration. It’s not enough to want to overcome an obstacle for someone else; you have to want it for yourself.
4. This too shall pass. I know it’s cliché, but only because it’s true. We’re human, we get discouraged. Whether you’re facing time, running the risk of losing your kid, feeling your body deteriorate, or even something so simple as just having a bad day can lead you into a cycle of doubt. But when you remember that each day is a new day and a new opportunity, it makes it easier for you to fight for yourself. At least, it did for me.
5. Value your health. Between seeing addiction firsthand and also struggling with my MS, I think I have a new outlook on the importance of taking care of yourself. It’s easy to think, especially when you’re younger, that your body and brain can handle more than it really can, and that we have plenty of time to care about our health but we don’t. And I’m not just speaking on a physical level — mental and emotional health play an equally crucial part in being able to bounce back.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would try to provide the youth with access to an outlet. A lot of kids end up being silenced because they don’t feel comfortable speaking out against their friends, family, teachers, authority, etc. They don’t always have the tools or the language, or even the capacity to truly understand and explain what they’re feeling, so I think a podcast or series, any sort of outlet where kids are able to openly express themselves would be monumental in facilitating their growth.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Definitely Ms. Susan Burton. I remember reading her book and it changed my life. We shared a lot of the same experiences, both being mothers who were in prison, both losing someone we loved, both having relationships with addiction, and it was the first time I really felt seen. She was able to not only turn her life around, but she founded an organization to help other women who have come out of prison. She’s helped women to regain custody of their kids, break out of addiction, and avoid reconviction, and has been a huge help in advocating for restructuring the legal system to be more humane.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can keep up with all the work Avenues for Justice is doing on their website and social medias (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter). They’re also always advocating for their Participants at the courthouses, and would love for those interested in the criminal justice system to see AFJ at work!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!