My name is Grace James, and I am from Kiribati. I grew up with a strong mother who taught me how to become a strong and determined woman. Throughout my childhood, she endured many tough situations to make a life for my siblings and me. It is from her that I learned life isn’t easy. But even in the hard times, life should always be cherished.

In 2016, I spent a year and two weeks inside an American immigration detention center. I fled to the United States to escape domestic violence that I experienced on my island. I came in hopes of freedom and a peaceful life. As crazy as it may seem, my experiences inside the prison were some of the most rewarding I have ever had. Though in jail, I found joy through serving others. Never before had I been presented with so many opportunities to help. I started by teaching basic English to a small group of women who had never attended school. They hoped to use their time inside the prison to learn English. Serving brought me so much joy. I began searching for other ways to serve. My life changed. I wanted a life no longer for me, but others.

Receiving letters was one of my favorite things while in prison. It always made my day better because someone knew I existed and took time to write to me. Even just half of a page brought a smile to my face and lifted my spirits. I was sad when other detainees did not receive letters. Many of their families were not in America. It was because of them that I created, an opportunity for family and strangers to write to immigration detainees in their own free time.

Writing a letter may seem simple or unimportant, but to detainees, letters matter. It would mean the world to them to know that there is someone out there willing to offer love and care or even help. My mother is my role model; her perseverance that I witnessed when I was young helped me turn this great setback into something positive for others.
In this life, we hold the power of choice which determines our happiness, regardless of where we are, what we go through or who we encounter. It is that same choice that made me realize I could do something great and dream BIG from a prison cell. I hope to one day make my story into a book to help other women in troubled relationships and imprisoned in detainment.

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