I have so many feelings after leaving nearly six years in my role as YBB’s Program Director.

I feel joy.

When I think about my time at YBB, I remember so many joyful moments like:

A yoga participant, E, getting up from savasana and telling the whole class he just had a “spiritual massage,” and everybody laughing and teasing him playfully.

Teaching and singing, “Happy birthday to you, we’re so glad you’re alive, you’re a gift from this earth, bless the day of your birth,” with a cohort of male yoga students. It was at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac on one of the students’ birthdays, and he got teary. We were in a circle and there was total chaos outside of the room, but it felt like we created a little sanctuary together for him.

Meeting up with Marriam, one of our incarcerated teachers, when she got sent out to the Yakima Jail because of overcrowding at WCCW. It was awful and traumatic for people who got transferred, and YBB was part of a coalition to try to intervene and bring them back. Marriam and I got to spend about an hour together. Things couldn’t have been worse for her at that time, but she refused to dwell on the bad. She named every positive thing about her situation that she could think of and we just laughed and laughed because that’s what we could do. This interaction had a profound impact on me and I think about it often.

Giving a presentation to the Superintendents of all of the prisons in Washington State with two of my formerly-incarcerated colleagues, Shuja and Julian, and watching Shuja lead them through a meditation where every single one of them closed their eyes and took deep breaths. That was a sight to behold.

And then there have been so many moments of laughter, appreciation, and sweetness with my colleagues over the years. Thank you all for making work fun and bringing your full humanity with you.

I feel gratitude. 

This work challenged me to grow constantly, to unlearn, heal, and confront the complexity of leading programs for people who are incarcerated as a non system-impacted person. I don’t take it for granted that this work was not only my livelihood, but that I learned so much about embodying social justice, anti-racism, and overall just how to be a brave relational human being from my colleagues (huge shoutout to those who gave me hard feedback along the way), and the many people I have worked with behind bars and after their release. I can’t be thankful enough for a job that has cracked me open in such vital ways that will influence every facet of my life onward.

I feel hope.

YBB is experiencing some big staffing transitions, but I am very hopeful and confident that the organization is not only stable but has an opportunity to make bold and brave moves. They’re heading in the direction of having greater impact, centering more leadership of system-impacted people both on staff and facilitating our programs, and sustaining relationships and programming with folks upon their release. I feel proud to have launched our completely transformed and more youth-centered program at Echo Glen before leaving, and to have trained and collaborated with a really rad multiracial team of trainers to build an outstanding trauma-informed training that they can all expertly facilitate. I am psyched that YBB has everything it needs to press go with the next teacher training behind bars when the prisons allow programs to resume. I feel so good about advocating for sustainable workloads, staff self-care, and more focused and satisfying work. And I feel really hopeful and excited for Launa Lea, who has already demonstrated such wisdom and strategy to the whole team to take my role.

Thank you for supporting me and the meaningful work that I was so blessed to do at YBB. I am moving on to a role at The Bail Project, launching their newest program site in Missoula, Montana, my hometown. I am really thrilled to be moving back home to be closer to my family, and to be getting to do such important work in the place I was raised. Definitely check out their work!

With joy, gratitude, and hope,

Jess (JP)

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