Re-Branding Ourselves

Every time I change jobs (which has been quite a lot) I joke with my friend Mark that I’m going to change my entire look.  None of my new co-workers would know that I’ve never worn a headscarf, false eyelashes and a fake tan.  His first question is always “Who do you want to be?”

Somewhere I know I’ve seen Jennifer Lopez with a Pucci silk headscarf and huge gold hoops.  THAT’S who I want to be–the epicenter of “boho-gypsy chic.” She’s got a perfect radiant dewiness to her cheekbones that I’ve attempted to replicate about a million times.  Forget the abs and ass (for now)–I just want to look like her from the neck up, because, well, she wears a cross and that wouldn’t go over very well with my father.

Not only would I never be able to figure out how to put on a headscarf let alone glue on false eyelashes, I wouldn’t have the patience required for spraying or rubbing self-tanner in just the right way. The most I’ve managed is tying gauzy patterned scarves around my neck, so self-conscious that I haven’t done it right in that way that says I didn’t have to even try, that I end up taking them off halfway through the day.  On some days I’ve managed to achieve part of my desired look, but fall short in one detail or another making me look more like a wannabe than a natural.  I envy those people who just pick things out of overflowing accessory drawers and jewelry boxes, slap on some lipstick, all in under a minute and just become “them.”  I want to be one of “them.”

Recently, I’ve re-branded myself in an entirely different way.  I’ve decided that “who I want to be” is a writer while holding down a “day job” working directly with at-risk populations.  I’ve decided that who I DON’T want to be is a fundraiser accountable to an often ungrateful board or boss.  Just because I was good at it for a while, possess the skill set that made me successful at it, I wanted to become “unstuck” from the 18-yr career pigeonhole that I found myself.  At 47, I was really scared about making this definitive choice, mostly for financial reasons but more for the rejection that I thought I would experience by hiring managers who skimmed my resume and couldn’t see the  logic in how my overall professional experience would transfer into work as a counselor or advisor to former gang members, women in prison and everyone in-between.  I put it out there, sold myself in great cover letters, and I have gotten three interviews for jobs that I see as my ultimate dream.  I’ve successfully re-branded myself in the course of about 3 months.  How cool is that?

My husband and I have recently starting watching a show called “Lockup” which gives a pretty thorough look into our nation’s prisons.  Because of my ongoing volunteer work with female inmates, it has become added insight into our country’s really warped justice system.  The shows that are particularly heartbreaking are those that focus on juvenile detention centers.  These are kids who are absolutely on the cusp of going in either direction.  You can just see in their eyes the ones who have completely given up and will undoubtedly spend their lives behind bars.  You can almost see an immediate time-lapse in their faces, project the image of what they will age into and how they will look 20, 30, 50 years from now.

The other night there was a young man who was about to turn 18, the age when you get booted over to the adult prison system.  He had made a couple of stupid choices but was absolutely determined to make it, never see the inside of a cell again.  He was expecting his second child (that’s an entirely different subject) and wanted to be part of his kid’s lives.  He had been in a gang, what I have learned in my work is an alternate family that you NEVER betray.  Kind of like the Mafia where if you snitch, you either up dead or in the Witness Protection Program.

In an act of what I think is total bravery, he had his gang tattoos professionally removed.  He no longer wanted to be identified with that world, no matter what the consequences.  At his hearing, his probation officer and court-appointed attorney held this up as his absolute commitment to changing his life and it’s what convinced the judge to release him.  He re-branded himself.

I really don’t want to be anyone but who I am at the core.  I like myself and have a tremendous amount of self-confidence.  That being said, when a woman in my prison group described me as a “hippie” and another said I was “funky” I knew, at least for that day, that I had done an awesome job of the re-brand.  In that same class when they asked what I did for a living, on a day when my first piece was picked-up by one of the most reputable on-line magazines, I stuttered and stammered as I answered, “I’m a writer.”

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10 Comments

  1. This is the posting of a writer who has humor, self-awareness, and compassion. Gave me shivers, Gail. I want to be one of "them" too, but when I tell people I am a yoga instructor, I know that they often see me as their "them". Such truth, my friend. xoxo

  2. Very cool! I love that you made this decision to change. Who cares about what you did in the past. Here's to being a new person, over and over again!

  3. Loved this! I reacted to so much of it. You know I worked in criminal justice social work for many years. Great work if you can handle the ups and downs (of which there may be more…) Good luck on those interviews!

  4. "I'm a writer."yeah, you are 😉

  5. Kat

    And what a great writer you are, you have me hooked =)

  6. Just put a magnet with this reminder on my friend….It says: Life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself. I'm a big believer you can be anyone you want to be. The only thing that hold us back is our own fears. So excited for the steps you're taking and can't wait to read more about where this path takes you. (by the way, I think you always look funky and boho chic. The new purse helps, too!)

  7. Re-branding is something that is not only important but necessary for most people leaving prison. During your legal entanglement, during your incarceration and for the potentially many years of your transition, many people may try to keep you stuck in your past in your mistake. The important thing is break away from the old brand and to establish one that is true to you real identity and one that speaks to the price you've paid, the lessons learned and the hope you have for your future. I love this post. If a person in prison or coming out of prison can re-brand anyone can! Teresa Hodge Pearls In Prison

  8. Gayle, I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. Bravo! I was originally sentenced to 87 months but partially won an appeal received a 17 month reduction. I served my time in "Camp Cupcake" the prison in recent times, that Martha Stewart made famous aka Alderson Federal Prison Camp for women. The stories of prison living as a White Collar, first time offender and non-violent ordinary citizen in a Federal Prison Camp is similar to those you share in many ways but also very different. I've met the women you work with and describe in these stories. But there is another face to women in prison that is often an untold story. It's the soccer mom, the room mother, your neighbor, the woman who goes to a church, mosque or synagogue. It's the business professional who made a mistake, was in a fiduciary role within a company, a technical violation slipped her watch or for a moment had an ethical test that she failed. That woman too shows up to prison. Beyond all of that, there is a story of sisterhood that occurs in a prison and community that no one will never know and understand unless you experience prison living. I was shocked and grateful to have encountered it. Continue to share your stories and your experiences with women in prison! Teresa Hodge Pearls In Prison

  9. Hi Teresa-I am absolutely thrilled that you found me as well! Your organization looks absolutely incredible and I would love to find out how you might continue to share my work.

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