In September of 2008 I was 23 years old and three months deep into my re-entry. I was living with my girlfriend’s mom, dirt broke and relying on state cash benefits and food stamps to support my kids. What could I make of myself with 30 felony convictions? I could have easily went back to hitting bank licks but after my first time in prison I had no intentions of going back. My life had very little direction so I decided to put my G.E.D. to use and enroll at a local community college. I was a first generation college student from a very disadvantaged background so I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know, this was the start of a beautiful transformation.
I am writing this almost eight years later and I can truly say that my life has changed as a result of my educational journey in ways I could have never imagined. Over the past eight years my life has seen its ups and downs. I have been to the mountaintop during good times such as when I graduated with my degrees but also to the deepest valleys going through hardship such as the loss of loved ones. The experience of transforming my identity from that of a convicted felon to that of a college student has provided the opportunity for growth that leads to more highs than lows. By doing positive things and becoming educated I have become a role model for the younger generation in my family, an inspiration for my generation in my family, and the pride and joy of the older generation in my family.
As a result of pursuing and earning an education I have not only increased what I know but I have also been exposed to new information and perspectives that have helped shape my personal values and core beliefs. Not all educational paths are the same but I took a path that was highly focused on making life better for people and it has had a tremendous impact on how I view and interact with people from all different walks of life. I have given myself an opportunity to do positive things and make connections that will allow me to be seen for my potential as opposed to being judged solely on the mistakes I have made in the past.
My life before prison was all about hustling and making money. I didn’t care who I had to lie to, steal from or walk over in order to live a life of luxury. I spent the majority of my time with people who were like-minded who were trapped in similar lifestyles. Nobody I was around encouraged me to change or do better. I wasn’t encouraging them in any positive way either. Being a college student exposed me to a different group of people that I had never been around before. I actually had to think about the world and its problems plus write and talk about potential solutions. I had to look deeper than the surface to try to understand why people do the things they do. Eventually I learned things about people from backgrounds such as mine so that I recognize exactly why I ended up in prison and I know exactly what I need to do to stop myself from going back.
You have an opportunity to do something great. You recently lived through one of those deep valley hardships while incarcerated but pursuing an education will allow you to defy the odds and reach the mountaintop called success. We all have barriers, we all have questioned our ability to succeed. You can make your own personal transformation through pursuing an education and it starts here and now.