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

 

Pedro, 69

Meet Pedro…

“For me it’s a way to start giving back to my community. In my case, my community starts here.” 

Pedro, 69

Incarcerated: 25 years

I am in the process of rehabilitating myself. I am lucky to be in San Quentin, the right place where self-help groups are offered to address my drug and alcohol addiction. I started this prison sentence without a goal. However, there was one thing I knew I had to change, I decided “Enough is enough, I have got to stop doing drugs and alcohol, or I will destroy my life.” Then I made peace with the God of my understanding and for self improvement I set out to get my high school diploma. I also started going to Alcohol Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Then, I got transferred to San Quentin. At first I was worried because of its notoriety of being a hard core prison, but that all changed. I found San Quentin to be a rehabilitation and educational institution. Here I found so much to do, that I needed to choose which program to take. I enrolled in Mount Tamalpais college. Then the pandemic hit and all the programs came to a halt!  It was early in 2021 when the pandemic restrictions were lifted and I was asked if I wanted to help to set up the new college library. The library was going to be in B-building, in the existing storage area known as cage #1 and cage #2. There were thousands of books in boxes. I started working right away by dusting off the boxes and shelves, as well as sweeping and mopping a year of dust and dirt. Inventory needed to be taken. The books were to be classified and counted, the idea to display them like in a bookstore developed. It was an easier method to identify and categorize them. At the same time while putting together the new library, they did not have a porter to clean and maintain the building’s classrooms and study areas. The building needed to be brought to post-covid cleaning standard.  The education department did not have a gardener, so I also took on the duties of gardening. This experience, working as a volunteer has helped me to make indirect amends for the wrong and harm I’ve done to my victims. For me it’s a way to start giving back to my community. In my case, my community starts here.

William, 58

William, 58

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Meet William…

What on earth would make this young person, with so much life and joy ahead of her, want to keep in contact with someone like me?

William, 58
Incarcerated: 35 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, IL

I met a young volunteer tutor named Annie during my final quarter in Northwestern’s Degree program here. Her forte was all things math related, and since my final course was psychology, she and I rarely interacted. We would smile and greet one another when our paths crossed, but we had almost zero instances of substantive discourse. On the last day of her tenure here, Annie and I sat across from one another, and talked. I learned how genuinely kind, empathetic and bright she was. I lamented that I wished we’d made time to talk sooner, and we’d had the opportunity to talk more often. To my surprise Annie replied, “I’m going to reach out to you William, this won’t be the last time we speak.” I smiled and nodded, but to be honest, I did not take her seriously. What on earth would make this young person, with so much life and joy ahead of her, want to keep in contact with someone like me? You see, I was rightfully convicted of first degree murder, sent to Death Row, had my sentence commuted to Life Without Parole, and have been locked up a total of 35 years of my life! So why would Annie want to know me beyond her duties as a tutor? Then, out of the Blue, I get a new contact alert on my prison issued tablet. Annie and I have built a symbiotic relationship of trust, honesty, respect and mutual encouragement. I give her counsel about boys and life, she teaches me through poems about the world and being human in this new and scary world. I’ve been absent for over three decades. I’ve told Annie in vivid detail, all about my past, the harm I’ve endured, and the harm I’ve unleashed on the world when I walked in pain, ignorance and addiction. Initially, I think I did it to shock her, may be run her away; but she’s stuck by me, saw me not for who I was, and what I’d done; but for who I am now, and the gifts I can give to the world in my healed and self-actualized state. Despite all the odds, I found a friend, I gained acceptance, and for someone I least expected it to come from. Picture is of William and a reporter from PBS – he was featured in a story on bringing back elder parole to Illinois.

Todd, 36

Todd, 36

Meet Todd…

It is unnatural to me for a parent to outlive his child. Facing this harsh reality while incarcerated forced me to deal with it head-on.

Todd, 36
Incarcerated: 16 years
Housed: Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, CA

How do you mend a broken heart? This is a question that burns through the forefront of my mind. Everyday, I’m faced with the reality of unnatural loss. There was one event in my life that was the most unnatural, and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t make this situation make any sense. I’m an alcohol and drug counselor, a college graduate with a bachelor’s degree, a son, a brother, a mentor, and friend, but the title I enjoyed the most was father. I became so accomplished in prison because I wanted to show my son that he should never give up no matter the circumstances. My son was my identity in here, and he was my motivation.

My dear son recently passed away at the age of 1, and my life was flipped upside down. Suddenly I had to figure out why I do what it is I do. All the while though, my brain still can’t compute the passing of my son. It is unnatural to me for a parent to outlive his child. Facing this harsh reality while incarcerated forced me to deal with it head-on. I had to reassess my focus and drive. Instead of just being a positive example for my son, every young man I know took his place. I want to eventually get my master’s degree in social work, then become a licensed clinical social worker, so I’ll be able to help other young men, like my son, who were impacted by having fathers, who are serving long sentences in prison.

That’s where I’m at now. Thanks for checking me out, this is just a small glimpse into my life. I just want to be of service and help people. Please feel free to respond. I’d like to end by telling everyone, “Keep pushing because it is going to get better, and you never know who you might inspire.” Thank you!

Shawn, 46

Meet Shawn…

I’ve been known As “R227**” staff and prison officials only see me as a number.

Shawn, 46
Incarcerated: 18 years
Housed: Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, IL

I’ve been known as “R227**” staff and prison officials only see me as a number. Even though I have changed my life around completely, they still see the person that I once was. Instead of looking at me for the man that I am today, they see the uniform I wear, and the reason why I’m wearing it. I’ve never had anyone see me for who I am until I met this lady named Jennifer Lackey. She is a philosophy professor from Northwestern University and founding director of the Northwestern Prison Education program” it offers bachelor degrees to incarcerated individuals. She welcomed me into the college community. It sees incarcerated people for more than just the uniform we wear. She treated me with dignity and respect. Someone worthy of deserving it. For the first time in a long time, someone saw me for who I really am. She accepted me into the college program, giving me the chance to earn a Northwestern Bachelor’s Degree. I’m thankful for professor Lackey, she restored my faith in people. She’s also giving me a renewed purpose in life, And I can never thank her enough.

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