Johnny, 45
Johnny, 45

Meet Johnny…

I realized the possibility of spending the remainder of my life in prison didn’t have to deter me from striving for a better education and being able to make something of myself.

At the age of 21, I was sentenced to 29 years to life for premeditated attempted murder, assault, and 2nd degree robbery. I have served 24 of the 29 years.

I spent the first 17 years in Pelican Bay Solitary Housing Unit (SHU), two years at San Quentin and I’m now doing time in Tracy, Ca. Before prison, I reached the 10th grade of high school, education wasn’t something I placed much value on. It wasn’t until I got to the SHU that my interest in education resurfaced. Since the SHU didn’t provide any opportunities for learning I had to seek them out.

With living every minute alone, being deprived of so much, for years on end, I survived on reading and watching TV. I wanted to get a GED, the reality of furthering my education was slim with limited resources. It was a struggle trying to teach myself things I didn’t know. I would easily get frustrated and discouraged, but kept with it and eventually it got easier.

When a GED program came to the SHU, I had taught myself everything I needed to know. I will never forget the day that certificate was handed to me, I was flooded with pride and motivation.

I didn’t have to live within the confines of my crime. In 2015, I was finally released from the SHU and sent to San Quentin, I was elated. SQ is praised because of the programs it offers, I had the opportunity to advance my education.

One program changed my life, the Academic Peer Education Project which offers GED classes taught by inmates and outside volunteers where I was a peer educator. It was my APEP colleagues who encouraged me to go to college.

Experiencing firsthand how education transforms lives is rewarding and being a part of that has given me purpose. I can’t explain why it took a prison sentence and half of my life to get back on the path of education, but I know I will be better for it. Ultimately, I would hope to be defined by who I am now, rather than what I’ve done in the past.