I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.
Harriet Tubman had a choice. On one side, she could have moved forward in her new freedom, working as a nurse, leaving her old life behind. Instead, she chose to risk her own safety and freedom to help others through the Underground Railroad.
Miea Walker faced a similar choice when she was released from prison in 2012. The obstacles she faced in returning to society would be enough to make one weary and frustrated, but her journey led her to a greater calling that would impact the brothers and sisters she left behind.
Miea’s mother and grandmother imparted faith, wisdom, and insight, but Smithfield, North Carolina, was a tough place for a little black girl. A billboard outside of town featured a hooded man on a horse with the message, “Welcome to KKK Town, Communism and Integration.”
As a child Miea couldn’t truly process the racial overtones, so she created her own rules to deal with what she observed. She struggled to believe that God loved her and that she mattered to Him as she witnessed her grandmother being abused and disrespected. Searching for her identity, she felt most accepted in extracurricular activities–cheerleading, dance, gymnastics–but she maintained an emotional wall between herself and the world. As the gatekeeper of the secrets, shame, and trauma of her family, she put on her masks and focused all of her energy on pleasing everyone else.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10, ERV)
Without a foundation of faith or an understanding of her identity, Miea tried to fill the emptiness through an insatiable pursuit of money. She tried anything she could think of to make money, and her job as a paralegal gave her access to embezzle funds. She thought that money would cover up her bruises and set the little girl inside of her free, but instead it sent her deeper into despair, grasping for material things but only finding air in her hands.
The two years after her arrest while she waited for her sentencing included two suicide attempts. After one attempt with a bottle of Tylenol and vodka, she felt angry at God for allowing her to live and not giving her the relief that she wanted. Sitting in her mess, she cried out to God as she realized she couldn’t do this on her own and she needed Him. That was her game-changing moment. She saw a counselor for the first time a week later, and God began to give her clarity and a fresh perspective. During her nine years in prison, Miea took advantage of every opportunity to improve herself. Her paralegal skills secured her a job in the education department and she earned her Bachelor’s in Sociology from Shaw University, one of the State’s historical black colleges.
Walker reminds us that there is always a Mandela, Betty Shabazz, Angela Davis, or Malcom X in prison.
Although Miea spent the last year of her sentence participating in home leave and the study release program where she attended school on the campus of Wake Tech, she still felt extreme anxiety and fear upon her actual release. She considered herself marked with a scarlet letter and spent her first 90 days out in self-isolation.
The thought of going back to counseling and resuming medication felt like failure to her, but those decisions turned out to be the best ones she made in those first months. She landed a job she wasn’t even searching for and was also accepted into NC State’s MSW program–no small feat given her conviction, but her track record and the support of her professors at Shaw University and Wake Tech helped her secure her admittance.
Today, Miea is driven to reach back, as Harriet Tubman did to those who were still enslaved, to empower those who are incarcerated and to let them know that their voice does matter. She reminds them that there is always a Mandela, Betty Shabazz, Angela Davis, or Malcom X in prison, that they will always have a seat at the table, and that people are here to help cultivate their gifts.
Active in criminal justice reform in North Carolina and across the country, Miea currently serves as the Criminal Justice Manager of the Policy and Advocacy Division for Forward Justice in Durham, NC. She is a frequent speaker and panelist, sharing strategies to empower those who are incarcerated and challenging the global church to lead in these movements. She also serves on the Advisory Board of Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association (CMCA).
Miea is also a 2019 graduate of JustLeadershipUSA’s Leading with Conviction Fellowship Program. Through this program, Miea learned about the power of collective leadership to encourage others to fill the gaps and add their voices to make a difference. She is now a stronger and more determined advocate, maximizing the effectiveness of her efforts.
Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following; for where you go, I will go. (Ruth 1:16, NASB)
Like Ruth in the Old Testament, Miea is loyal and has a servant’s heart. She loves the family God has given her–those who are incarcerated–and does all she can to protect her community, to work hard for them like Ruth did for Naomi. Even through the tough times, Miea is confident that she and her family will be blessed.