I have always wanted to learn how to operate a Zero-Turn lawn mower. A Zero-Turn is a riding lawn mower with a zero degree turning radius. I had seen someone riding one years earlier, before I was incarcerated, and knew then that I wanted to learn.
Last summer, a friend of mine, who is very experienced with operating the Zero-Turn, taught me how to operate one and I was very excited. It’s so sensitive, if you put too much force in it, it will go too fast and you can cause an accident.
First, she had me get on and get comfortable. She put me in a big field so I could get used to riding before I had to get into cutting the lawn. When you get ready to cut the grass, that’s when you put the blades down, but before that you can keep the blades up and just ride.
The day was hot and sunny. The skies were so clear. Riding in the field that day, for the first time in eight years, I had control over something outside myself. Compared to my daily life as an incarcerated woman in a transitional center—where I have to get permission to go outside, or go to work, or go to class, or to move from one building to another—out there on that Zero-Turn I was in charge of my own movement. I felt powerful.
One hot summer day, a few months later, my friend and I were instructed to cut grass by our supervisor. Since I had learned to operate the Zero-Turn, I was so ready to jump on it and ride. I enjoyed riding the Zero-Turn because it always gave me a lot of peace. When I was riding it, I felt my freedom. I was alone, I was able to think, outside of the center on a beautiful day—just away from everyone.
As I climbed on the Zero-Turn, I let the blades down and started cutting. My job was to cut one side of the yard. I was on a small hill, riding, when all of a sudden, my tire slipped, and the Zero-Turn suddenly started to flip over! I was terrified. My first instinct told me to jump out, so I leaped out as far as I could and rolled over in the grass. Had I not jumped out, the Zero-Turn would have crushed me. I got up and walked over to the other ladies with this spooked-face expression. My friend asked, “What’s wrong?”
I replied, “I flipped the lawn mower over.”
They all looked at each other and laughed because they thought I was playing a prank on them (they were used to me always pranking them). I then explained to them what happened, and that’s when they decided to take a look for themselves. We all went back outside and, seeing the lawn mower, they all shouted, “oh, my God!!”
They started asking if I was ok because I was acting so calm. I didn’t realize until then that the experience had traumatized me. I was in shock. We then notified our supervisor. I was so worried that I would get in trouble, but he was more concerned about my safety. First, he wanted to make sure I was okay. I said I was fine, I wasn’t hurt. Then he looked at the mower and said, “Oh shit!” Eventually, he connected the lawnmower to a forklift with straps and was able to turn it upright.
At that moment, I said to everyone, I was done with the Zero-Turn. Weeks went by, and I still did not ride the mower. Every time I thought about it, my heart raced, and I felt this bubble-gut feeling. I was scared.
Then, one day, my friend came to me because she saw how deeply affected I was about flipping over the lawn mower. She said, “V, you can’t just stop doing something because you’re scared. You can’t allow your fears to make you give up. If you are going to overcome it, you have to keep facing your fear until that fear no longer exists.”
Her motivational talk really helped me. It taught me that no matter if we fail at doing something in our life, we should never allow fear to knock us down.
Going through this experience helped me realize how when I was a child, I never allowed fear to stop me from doing anything I enjoyed doing. I always got back up and tried it again. It took a few weeks, but I did get back on the Zero-Turn.
As I continued to ride, little by little, I realized I wasn’t afraid. At that moment, I felt powerful. Facing fear, getting back up and getting back up and trying again, this is real freedom.