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A Journey from Confinement to Freedom: Celebrating 11 Years of Independence

By Jensen Caraballo


January 1, 2024, marks a momentous milestone in my life – it's been 11 years since I left Monroe Community Hospital, a day that signified the beginning of a new chapter of freedom and self-determination. Reflecting on the past, the memories of my struggles to gain independence are still vivid. The journey was arduous, filled with extensive letter writing, attending fair hearings, court dates, and giving testimony. These steps were not easy; they were battles for my civil rights.


The feeling of entrapment within the institutional walls was overwhelming. I remember the despair, thinking that the rest of my life would be confined within those walls. However, witnessing other disabled individuals living independently sparked a fire within me. I thought, "If they can live freely, why can't I?" This question became the catalyst for my fight for independence.


Throughout this journey, organizations like the Center for Disability Rights and the Regional Center for Independent Living were invaluable. Their guidance, education, and connections equipped me with the tools necessary to tackle the issue head-on. Community support and services played a crucial role in preventing a life of continued institutionalization – a life void of professional growth, personal development, and spiritual enlightenment.


Life in the institution was restrictive, devoid of autonomy and self-determination. I recall a poignant incident where I had to remove a Puerto Rican flag from my wall – a simple yet powerful symbol of my identity, deemed a 'fire hazard'. Such experiences underscore the lack of self-expression and rigid control prevalent in institutional settings.


Fast forward to today, and it feels surreal that I've been living in freedom for over a decade. It seems like just yesterday I left the confines of the facility. Since then, I've embraced a life brimming with opportunities and achievements. My roles have been diverse – from an Accessibility Specialist at the Regional Center for Independent Living to a Peer Mentor and Specialist at the Center for Disability Rights. In these roles, I've had the privilege of guiding individuals with disabilities on their own journeys towards independence.


My advocacy and influence have transcended national boundaries. A memorable trip to Japan had me traveling to Tokyo, Okinawa, and more, where I engaged in dialogues about disability issues, shared my story, and educated others about American culture and the Independent Living Movement. This experience was not just a professional milestone but a personal triumph, signifying that I had achieved what once seemed impossible.


As I continue to reflect on my journey, I realize that my initial belief – that escaping the institution was the pinnacle of my achievements – was naive. There is so much more that I have accomplished and so much more to achieve. The story of my journey from confinement to freedom is ongoing, and I look forward to sharing more in the future.

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Jensen Caraballo is a disability rights advocate based in Rochester, New York, who tirelessly works towards enhancing accessibility and advocating for the rights and independence of individuals with disabilities.


An open door that leads to freedom.
From confinement to freedom.

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