Jorge, 34

Jorge, 34

Meet Jorge…

“Whether my mom knew it or not, the seeds she planted long ago started to bloom later in life.”

Jorge, 34

Incarcerated: 15 years

I can clearly remember how proudly my mom’s eyes would glisten when she shouted in praise, while I won trophies in basketball, soccer, and baseball. As well as medals and ribbons in track and field. My mom always supported me and was thrilled with my athletic accomplishments. She would display my prizes on her living room walls and cabinets for guests to view. However, I struggled internally as a youth, with many dysfunctional qualities like being angry, resentful, and extremely insecure due to being abandoned by my father at the age of two. For a long time I viewed myself as an academic failure with learning disabilities. This intimidated me, adding to my uncertainty as a person. I felt like a child unworthy of my moms love and affection for what I did excel in. I lacked any emotional strength to connect with my mom or accept her tenderness and enthusiasm about my accolades. Whenever we had a dispute, I would selfishly try to hurt her by tearing my awards off the walls and breaking my trophies. In my distorted thinking, I lashed out to try to gain control of the influences of her rejections. My unhealthy communication skills made me approach situations aggressively without care of hurting others. No matter what I thought, she always pushed me to be better and find my authenticity. Whether she knew it or not, those seeds she planted long ago started to bloom later in life. Today, I’m in prison and in spite of my self-doubt I decided to go back to school to test myself, since I always cheated off others who I believed were smarter. Surprisingly, I passed when many in the class failed. A small grin came across my face, I found the spark I needed to pursue my education. Most notable, my G.E.D, a Computer Certification, an American Sign Language Certification, and finally two associates in arts degrees. My graduation ceremony will take place in 2024 and I pray my mom can attend, so I can see her beautiful eyes glisten with joy like they used to. I hope she proudly decorates these awards wherever she’d like, because I promise never to disrespect her admiration for my accomplishments again.

Katherine, 34

Katherine, 34

Meet Katherine…

“I learned that my past mistakes gave me the power to live and to grow, no matter who I was or what I did”

Katherine, 34

Incarcerated: 11 years 

Housed: York Correctional Institution, Connecticut 

I have grown up so much in prison. I learned that my past mistakes gave me the power to live and to grow, no matter who I was or what I did. In prison, I finished high school, have enrolled in college and have been a mentor for the past three years. I am also in prison arts, where I am able to put my artwork for show. I really still have a lot to learn and a lot more to grow. But today I am proud of who I am as a woman of worth. My favorite saying is: Behind my prison walls, I can’t change the many years of yesterday,  but I can do something about my tomorrow.

Juan, 23

Juan, 23

Meet Juan…

“Fitness is an escape within these walls, it helps me deal with everyday situations and I get to stay healthy.”

Juan, 23

Incarcerated: 8 years

Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California

My favorite song is called “Meet Me Halfway” by the Black Eyed Peas. Fitness is an escape within these walls, it helps me deal with everyday situations and I get to stay healthy. Faith in my higher power, it will always be a part of my recovery. My favorite verse is Jeremiah chapter 29:11. College has connected me to a greater community, “Reach one touch one” as they say.  In three months, I’ll be blessed to be going home to begin a new chapter in my life. 

Kahniaha, 26

Kahniaha, 26

Meet Kahniaha…

“I don’t know if he’ll ever know how much he means to me, knowing he is waiting for me keeps me pushing forward.”

Kahniaha, 26 

Incarcerated: 2 years

Housed: Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Freehold, New Jersey 

My mother was 41 when she had my youngest brother, Damarian (I call him Pedro). I had graduated high school and was on my way to Morgan State University when I told her I would not be babysitting and changing diapers for her. I’m sure my mom was confused because my family considers me to be, “The Child Whisperer” since all the children love me and I always babysit. When he arrived six days before my birthday, I didn’t even hold him. When he was six months or so, I started to warm up to him. When he started using his walker, he would barge into my room or bang on my door. When he was about ten months old, I decided to experiment with him. I majored in psychology and I was taking a course on childhood development. Pedro just so happens to be the perfect age to test the theories. So when I moved back home, everyday before and after work I would spend an hour or two with Pedro, going over the contents of a big yellow container meant to teach young children. It had animal books with the sounds they make, colors, shapes, numbers and the alphabet. I was thoroughly impressed by how quickly he picked up on everything. Teaching him became the highlight of my days. Once he mastered the yellow container, I started to teach him the basics in Spanish. By the time he was two he knew animals, their sounds, his alphabet, numbers 1 -20, colors, shapes and body parts. He even knew everything in Spanish. When he went off to Pre-K, his teachers would always speak on how smart he was. I was so proud of him! I would take him everywhere with me and show him off as ‘my son.’ He’s now seven and I have been incarcerated for the past 21 months. I draw him pictures, talk to him on the phone and teach him the best I can through letters and visits. A couple of months ago he came to see me, I had him spelling words and doing math problems. The guard made an announcement that we had five minutes remaining. Pedro began to shut down. I asked him what was wrong. He told me he missed me. I told him I missed him too, and I started to cry. He then said, “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” I watched him fight his tears as the visit hall was being cleared. It broke my heart, but at the same time he gave me strength. I don’t know if he’ll ever know how much he means to me, knowing that he is waiting for me keeps me pushing forward. Pedro, 7, said, “It’s going to be okay.” And I, 26, believe him more than anything or anyone. It will be okay and we will get through this!

Tyrone, 53

Tyrone, 53

Meet Tyrone…

I’m proud of myself. I thought this dream was impossible”

Tyrone, 53

Incarcerated: 30

Housed: San Quentin State Prison

I really didn’t want to do this speech, but I’m learning to get comfortable with my un-comfortability.

But this is something I have dreamt of my whole life; walking across the stage with my cap and gown on with a smile on my face, like the graduates you see on TV. My dream of graduation came to halt at the early age of 14, when I derailed from the path my grandparents wanted for me; to get my education and to stay out of trouble. 

They didn’t ask for much, but I chose to follow in the footsteps of my father and uncles. That led me to become a gang member, and caught up in that criminal life style which lead me in and out of juvenile hall, county camp and youth authority.

I never stayed out of trouble long enough to get my education on the streets but before I came to prison, my grandparents asked me to make them a promise: that I would finish school.

I told them I would get my diploma if I was giving the opportunity. I came to prison July 1993, my grandfather rest in peace, died the following year

That day, I made a promise to myself that I would change my life and become a better person and that my grandparents would be proud of me. When I came to SQ state prison in November 2010, they had so many programs here including education programs. I told myself, this was the time to start working on changing my life.

I enrolled myself in as many programs as I could; like CGA, NVC, RSJ, Anger Management, Victims Impact, 12 step ministry, boot camp 1,2,3 Christian programs and many more. By taking these programs, I was now able to accept full accountability for my actions and behavior and to become the person I should have been, and the person who is standing before you.

I was given the opportunity to complete my dream of graduation and fulfilling the promise I made to my grandparents. I was accepted in to the High school diploma program and was told that I needed 33 credits to graduate.

Not knowing how challenging it was going to be, but I had made that promise to my grandparents, I would finish school no matter how difficult it may be and it was difficult, especially Algebra, which I still have nightmares about.

I am just grateful I have so many amazing people believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

My grandmother Teddies was the biggest supporter and loved me unconditionally. She was very excited and proud of me for getting my diploma, I sent her invitations and she was excited to come to watch me walk across the stage.

Unfortunately, She passed, June 10, 2023. She was a remarkable woman, loving and caring, she put everyone else’s needs before her own. She was a woman of God and I know she is in a better place. Her last words to me were she was proud of me and she could not wait to see me walk across that stage. This diploma is for you grandma, thank you for your love

Graduates, we have done it through struggles, ups and downs, even through the pandemic- – and we never gave up.

We should be proud of ourselves. Because we have succeeded by completing high school.

I know I’m proud of myself.

I thought this dream was impossible

I want to acknowledge some teachers for motivating me and encouraging me and being instrumental in helping me succeed as a student and reach my dream.

My teacher Lucas who has push me to reach my full potential and gave me the space I needed.

she pushed me to be better than I was content with being, thank you for being patient with me.

Sufi who motivated me to be myself and not to be afraid to ask for help.

My pride kept me from asking for help, but I knew I had to let go of that pride, if I wanted to complete this program, so, Sufi, I thank you for pushing me to be better and to hold my head up. My free to succeed mentor Karen, THANK you for your encouragement and always willing to help me with my assignments and being here when I needed someone to talk to. I thank you for your guidance.

I thank these amazing teachers for believing in us and pushing us to see our true potential

Getting comfortable with being un-*comfortable is a real form of growth and I thank everyone here in this chapel for showing up and witnessing our growth and determination to do better and be better.


Thank you and God bless you all


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