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Working man's hands with dirt and grease under fingernails
Photo by Jitalia17 on iStock

I sat in the driver’s seat of the John Deere, holding the key and preparing to drive for the first time in nearly a decade. I felt a sense of normalcy I had not felt in years. 

In the Missouri Department of Corrections there are many different jobs available for incarcerated folks. Most prisons, like the medium security one I’m in, do not require people to have a job, although some do.

When an opening in the maintenance department presented itself at my prison, I could not pass it up. I inquired about the job opening. I interviewed for the position and was hired on the spot. 

Having a hands-on job has allowed me to not be cooped up in my housing unit all day.

The maintenance building is divided into sections. My section is the grounds crew. We are in charge of maintaining anything with an engine, whether it is electric or gas-powered. We also mow grass and plow snow. 

I’m in charge of pulling various vehicles out of the maintenance shop in the morning and returning them at the end of the day. These include side-by-side utility terrain vehicles, smaller tractors and even a Bobcat, which we plow snow with.

It has been exciting to drive again. For the past nine years, I wasn’t allowed to drive anything. When I turned the key and started the engine for the first time, I thought to myself: This alone makes my job worth it. When I pressed the gas and drove into the building, I felt human again.   

In a short amount of time, this job has given me a sense of purpose and normalcy that I thought was unattainable in prison. It has also given me a good topic of conversation with my family, many of whom are mechanically inclined.

Having a skill set will help me earn money when I leave prison and will be crucial in stopping a return to prison. 

Before my incarceration, I was not mechanically inclined. I never saw the benefit in learning this line of work. But now my view has changed. I leave work every day feeling proud. 

I still have a lot to learn, but that makes work fun — each day I discover something new.

So far I’ve figured out how to fix wiring issues in battery-powered vehicles, including the club cars that are used by the prison. And I’ve learned how to replace tires without the use of machines. Even though I had gloves on while doing this the first time, I still walked away coated in grease.

While I am a transgender woman working in a macho environment, I am treated fairly and feel accepted. I am simply another person on the team who has no problem getting their hands dirty.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Lexie Handling is a transgender writer working on bettering herself, and learning how to crochet (which is not as easy as she first thought). She is incarcerated in Missouri.