Education Inside Prison


Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all so much for coming
to this panel about education inside prison and post release. My name is Mary Weir and
I am a faculty member here in the Criminal Justice
Department at Highline. And I think we
will probably have a couple more people coming
in after they finish up lunch. But I wanted to go ahead and
get started with the panel because we have a bunch
of current and alumni from Highline who are
going to be talking about their experiences
with education inside prison and post release. Before we get to the
panel, though, I just wanted to mention
a couple of reasons why education inside
prison is so important. So we know that folks who get
an education inside prison are about 43% less
likely to recidivate over the course of three years. So it’s a really
important thing to ensure that our communities are more
safer that we provide education inside prison. We also know that
education can help be personally transformational
for individuals. We know that it can
help with communication and that it actually lowers
the rate of violent incidences within prisons. So in the 1990s, there
was some research done at an Indiana women’s prison. And they reported
about a 75% drop in violent incidences
within the prison when folks were going to school. So there’s lots of
different reasons for why education
is so important and hopefully we’ll be
able to hear from you all. And maybe I’ll just let my
co-facilitator introduce herself and then we can
go ahead and get started. So good afternoon, everybody. And thank you for being here. So thank you for showing
up and being present. And I wanted to take
the time to acknowledge that you’re here for a reason. So, thank you. My name is Michelle McClendon
and I am the re-entry advisor here at Highline College. And I’m excited because
one of the people that are on our panels is JJ. And JJ, actually, is
the one who help– actually started with this
with the re-entry program here. And then once he graduated,
then we took off from there. And he’s been with us and
has been amazing ever since. So thank you all for being here. OK. So the first question
for our panelists is, could you please introduce
yourself and describe your educational journey,
and including any sort of future educational goals. Hello, I’m Rachel. Is this on? Can you hear me? OK. My name’s Rachel. About my educational journey– so when I went to prison, I
didn’t know of any opportunity. When I was there, I didn’t
get a college education, but I joined a program
called the TRAC program. It’s vocational training. It’s an acronym that stands for
Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching. Because I didn’t
think that I was going to have much
opportunity outside of prison. So I thought I was going to most
likely have to join a trade. But what that program
did for me is, there was a lot of
classroom, a lot of homework. And it sparked
something in me where I felt like I could really
do whatever I wanted. So as soon as I was released,
I was kind of in the middle. Was I going to join a union or
was I going to go to school? So I basically applied to both. And the orientations
fell in the same week. And then that week
I decided that I was going to go to Highline. Whoo! Yeah. Yeah. And that’s where everything
really took off for me. I mean, being a
part of this campus, it was really good for me. And not only was
I going to school, but I was doing
really well in school. I was getting really
good grades and, like, I had never done anything
like that before in my life. You know, like, when I looked
at my high school transcript, like, it was not good. You know, like, I
when I, like, tested to get placed into classes,
you know, also not very good. But once I started
and I started growing, I was doing really well. I eventually applied
to University of Washington Tacoma. And I got in, early admission. And now I’m currently in the
middle of my bachelors degree in criminal justice. [APPLAUSE] Hello. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. I spent a total of
three years in prison. And during that time,
I had time to do so I had to figure
something else to do with my time other
than trying to get in shape and work out and what-not. That’s like the
cliche thing to do. So I had time to do, but I
wanted to spend it wisely. And while I was going
through my trial, my lawyer told me about
education programs in the prison and that I should
seek that because I really didn’t care for like none of
the gang or other activities where you go to maybe learn more
skills to do more stuff that could harm the community. So I focused on education. And that helped me meet
with other people that were going– that were
in the system as well, but they were trying to learn
something new or something different because people
naturally have, like, this need to want to
know how things work, or how things operate
and stuff like that. So I think that’s what
education is, is it’s giving people an opportunity
to learn something new. And it connected me
with these people that, they were in
the prison, but– we were all there, but when
we were inside the education program, it wasn’t a prison. It was just like
any other classroom. It didn’t matter where
the location was, the learning was
what was important. So I got a lot of
that from there. And I spent about 10 months at
Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. That’s where they sent the Green
River Killer, people who have the death penalty and such. When you’re going through
jail, they say, Walla Walla. It’s like, everybody’s
like, I don’t want to go to Walla Walla. It’s kind of a funny saying. If you’ve ever been in jail,
you’ll hear that a lot. So I went there. And, you know, with all
that stuff in my head, I was like, I didn’t
know what to expect. But I was in camp, which
is a minimum security. And Walla Walla, for being the
bad reputation that it had, it also has the best
education program of the system available
in Washington state. They have welding. It takes two years. So if you have like
three years or something, you can get your welding
degree from there. And you can easily get
a job after you get out. But for me, I enrolled
in CNC machining. And one of the amazing
thing that happened in that is the instructor, his
name is Rob Walker. He was already teaching
at Columbia Basin College. And he was 15 year
professor there. And he also created
programs for CNC machining, like setting up the
schedule of the classes, and how the class would run,
and the topics you would cover. And it was amazing to
me that he was supposed to hire the person that
was going to take that job, but he couldn’t find anyone
else better to do the job. And for him, it was
getting boring for him at Columbia Basin. So he wanted to change his
environment a little bit. And I don’t know what
was going on in his head, but he chose to go
to that prison job. And I’m very happy that he did
because it taught me a lot. And he helped me realize
that I could do a lot more and try to go after my potential
versus what I was doing just to survive or support myself
before I went into prison. But after I got out, I
basically came back to Highline. I started here in 2000. Whoo! Yeah. That’s a long time ago. Like, I’m 36 now. So I started here when I was 17. I dropped out and left because
I didn’t know what I was doing. Like, prison and school
was kind of the same thing, if you want to think
about it like that. It’s a weird way to look at it. But to me, like, some
people were asking, where have you been
the last three years? I would say I was at a school
for, like, hard knocks. And it was an all guys school. That’s one way I look at it. But, you know, when
you first go school, you don’t have direction
unless you got like guidance or whatever. When I went to prison, I
didn’t have any guidance. I was lost. And the hardest thing
was finding the programs that were available. Once that gets set in,
you start to meet people. And that’s the same way
it is in school, as well. If you don’t go out and meet the
people, it’s very hard for you to succeed. And those are the same
skills that I take with me. And I’m graduating,
basically, this year and I’m transferring
over to Seattle U to do mechanical engineering. And hopefully everything
will work out. And after I get
my degree, I plan to do more panel stuff like this
to try to give back and maybe tell my story. Like, I don’t have too
much time because there’s a lot to the story. But, thank you guys. [APPLAUSE] Seems like a lot of y’all
are saying way back there. You could come up if you want. I don’t want to
make you come up, but you could come
get a little closer and have more of a discussion. Yeah bring it up
front, you know. Come on. Come on up. That’s the journey. Yeah. Right? Closing the gaps. That’s right. That’s what we
doing is community, bridging them gaps
and everything. Yes. Yeah. Thank you all for coming up. I appreciate you moving in. It just felt like you all
was way too far away from me. I see Steve all the way back. Is that Steve? What’s up, Steve? So my name is James Jackson. But you could call me JJ. That’s what everybody calls me. I’m a formerly
incarcerated student in my senior year at the
Evergreen State College. Whoo! But it’s good to be back
here because I transferred from Highline
College to Evergreen. And this campus of this school
is why I am where I’m at today. So for me, you know,
education ended in, like, the ninth grade. It really ended, like, in
the seventh grade, really. I don’t know– I don’t know
how I got to the ninth grade, right. And, you know, eventually
I found my way to prison. I was 36 years old
before I went to prison. And when I got to
prison, I didn’t have a GED or anything like that. I didn’t have any kind of
skills, no trade or anything. All’s I knew how to do
was hustle and party. And so, you know, that
caught up to me, though. That took a toll on my life. And so I was in
the federal system. And I was originally
in a low security prison in Safford, Arizona, up
in the high desert, up there. There’s no federal prisons
in Washington State. We do have a detention
center, but we don’t have a– so they ship you out. And so while I was there, they
have prison industry jobs, right. And to get a better pay grade,
you had to have a GED, right. So that’s why I
went to get a GED. I was really– I was really scared
of education. I didn’t believe
that I could learn because it had been so long. And so I took the GED class. I got my GED. And Miss Henderson–
and so one thing is, I remember pivotal
people in my life. And Miss Henderson, my GED
teacher, was one of them. And so Miss Henderson said,
JJ, you got some high scores. You need to– so they had a
program with Eastern Arizona College. I’ve got to leave it– so they were teaching a
business program on the campus and there were some electives. So Miss Henderson
was like, JJ, you should go check out some of
these college classes, right. And I was like, I’m not here
for that, Miss Henderson. I’m here to get this
money so I don’t have to ask my family for anything. And I’m here to get
on this wait pile. That’s what I’m here for. But Miss Henderson
was super persistent. And she calling me
to her office, right. And so, eventually,
I was like, well, I ain’t got nothing better to do. I might as well take
a couple of classes. I’ll try out. So I tried out Cultural
Anthropology and Marketing 100. And so I did that. And, like my man right
here was saying is, the classroom
environment, you know, is, you’re in a classroom. The instructors were from
Eastern Arizona College and they came to the
prison and taught. And so it was fantastic, right. And what I found out
is that I could learn and that I was pretty smart. And so I 4.0 in both
of those classes. The thing was, though, I
still had other work to do. I was still broken
mentally and spiritually. And so I had to deal with that. And so what happened was, I
ended up getting in a fight. And I got transferred to
Victorville, California to a disciplinary yard. There was like a medium-high. And over there, they don’t
really have nothing for you. It’s all the gangs. It’s all the race politics. It’s all that stuff
happened there. And I was still
on some BS, right. And so I was fighting and stuff. And I was sitting
back in the hold. And, like, they said, Jackson
we got another stop for you. And they were talking
about the USP. And over there, all
the fighting stuff is off and go into a cell
with another man with a knife. And whoever comes
out, comes out. So I knew if I went
there, I wasn’t going to make it home, either way. And so I actually
fell to my knees and surrendered
there and started doing that work that enabled me,
right, to get right my heart, to get right my mind. In the middle of
that chaos, right. And here’s something,
you know, a lot of people have these misconceptions
about us in prison. They think we’re a bunch
of animals in there. But we’re your fathers. We’re your mothers. We’re your sisters. We’re your brothers. We’re your cousins. We’re your uncles. We’re people, right. We’re complex people who aren’t
only their last worst mistake, right. We have lives. We have love. We have all these
different things, right. And so, once those men in there
seen me start trying to change, they left me alone and
supported me in that, right. And so I had to do
all that work before I could do anything else. But that seed for education
was planted for me. And so one of the things
I did when I was in there is, I got super fit, right. And some of the men were
like, JJ how’d you do that? And I said, come on, let’s go. And I’d show them. I’d train them. And they’re like, you should
be a personal fitness trainer. I knew I wanted to go to school. I knew I liked training. So I started researching
degrees in personal fitness. And when I got out,
though, they didn’t have like education
re-entry navigators and stuff like they do today. But I had a cousin who worked
at the Goodwill Education and Training Center
in downtown Seattle. And he said, hey, yo,
cus, come down here and check out some
of these classes. Right? And so I went down
there and they had a College 101 class,
which was basically College Navigation. And I’ve got to
give a big shout out to Goodwill because they helped
me find Highline through that. They helped me do– well, so the FAFSA,
finding a school, register. You know, they walked
me through all that. And they even paid for my first
quarter of school down there. Some big ups to Goodwill. They even bought me a laptop. And so, through that
program, though, I found Highline College and the
AAS in personal fitness program here. Big shout out to Tim. He ain’t here– Tim Vagen
if anybody– you know Tim. [APPLAUSE] Yeah. Yeah. And so, I did that program. And I decided I wanted
to keep it pushing and go through the next summer. And so I went into workforce
where Michelle and I used to work for a
minute, when I was working with her over there. And Robin Rickins was
the counselor there. And so one thing about me is, I
don’t live in shame and guilt. And I stand on my story, right. And so, I talked
to Robin and she’s like, JJ, you should be
in student leadership. And I was, like, oh. I said, I’m kind of
old and they’re kind of squared over there. Right? And it wasn’t that I
didn’t want to work with people that are squares. It was because I didn’t
feel like I fit in, right. But I had met a person
here, Pa Ousman Jobe. He was the student body
president the year– oh, yeah. I was– by the way, I was
student body president here for a year– anyway. [APPLAUSE] And so Pa had been working
in student leadership. And I walked out
of that interview. I actually met Pa
at the bus stop and I was helping
him work on his core. That’s how we became
friends, right. And I told him. He said, what’s
on your mind, JJ? I told him. He said, man, do it. Do it. And so I did it. And to make a long story
short, I got my first job at the intercultural center. And that’s where
student government when Rochelle was vice president,
who’s right here, my partner Rachelle. Right? She was vice
president that year. And they came to me
and they said, hey, will you be the face of
post-secondary education for inmates for
Highline on the state level for wax and all that? And so I did that. And it was because of that
work that I’m sitting here in front of you today. Going into student government
student leadership was the best thing– the best choice I ever made. And it added so much value
to my education, right. And so, now, I’m at Evergreen. I’m graduating here on June 14. But when I got to Evergreen,
we put together the Justice Involved Student Group. I’m trying to hurry. I feel like I’m taking–
am I taking too much time? Keep going? OK. So we put together Justice
Involved Student Group. And through work with
our community partners, we became the first
four year school to get funding from the
Department of Corrections for a re-entry navigator. Right? And so, I’ve got a
backup a little bit. We also came together with– we put a committee together
here to bring the program that Michelle told you
about to this school. And Michelle is
now doing the work. And she’s awesome. And, yeah. Anyway, so now, I’m the
education re-entry navigator at Evergreen. Right? I’ll move into that
position full time, here, after I graduate. And so for anybody–
student leadership adds so much value
to your education. You actually can
build your resume while you’re going
to school, right? And then when you
graduate, you actually have transferable skills, right. And so I promote student
leadership to anybody. But, really, especially the
formerly incarcerated people– there goes one of the
people I worked with– Marta. Hi, Marta. Sorry, sidetracked. I worked with
Marta at the Center for Leadership and Service. Marta’s awesome. Y’all go see her if you
want to go up there. So, yeah. [APPLAUSE] And so, anyway,
that’s what’s up. I’m going to go ahead and
pass the mic because I got a little bit off track. But education has
changed my life and given me hope
and belief in myself. [APPLAUSE] All right. My name is Louie Irick. I’m a student here at Highline. This is my graduating quarter. Whoo! [APPLAUSE] This has been–
it’s been a journey. I didn’t even
graduate high school. I didn’t– things were
kind of rough back then. And I was just coming
out of a broken home– abusive father. And I just didn’t know how to
deal with life the right way. But I had a good– I had a Marine Corps recruiter
that kind of looked out for me. And even though even I didn’t
graduate from high school, he gave me a waiver and
helped me in the Marine Corps to deal with myself and get out
of the situation that I was in. And even going through
that, you know, you don’t learn how to
deal with certain issues all the right way and
you develop other habits. And so, coming out of combat
and coming becoming a civilian, I didn’t deal with things
the right way again. And I hurt a lot of
people through it. You know, there is
no pretty crime. There is no good crime. You know, hurt
people, hurt people. And if we don’t learn how
to deal with our issues in a healthy way, we end
up causing more pain. And we’re trying to
come against that. And we’re trying
to create healing– an atmosphere of healing
where we’re not perpetuating crime or perpetuating more hurt,
but where that we can forgive and we can heal, and move on and
have a better community for it. I didn’t even– when
I got out of prison, I didn’t even know I
could go to education. I didn’t really have
much education in prison because I was told it
wasn’t available for me. The GI Bill I told– all my benefits, I told
that wasn’t for me. I’m looking back on it and with
people that I’ve talked to now, they told me that
that was all a lie. And so my education was
actually going to the library and checking out
books, and reading, and being proactive in myself. Because sometimes
that’s what it takes. We have to learn and we have
to be motivated within ourself. We don’t have that
motivation within ourself, then we’re just going
through the motions. But each one of us– doesn’t matter if
you have a crime, or are affected by
crime, or if you just have a lot of good things,
having a goal is important. Having a vision for
your life is important. And that’s kind of where I
started developing a vision for myself and for my future. And not everything
was clear right away, but things become clear. The more you step and
walk in that direction, the more clarity
will come from it. And the people you meet
along the way are amazing. Everybody has talked about
the support that have got where they are right now. And I wouldn’t be here without
the support that I had. There’s a retired Lieutenant
Colonel that just took me under his wing as I got out. And when I said, I don’t have– I can’t go to school. He says, no, you
can go to school. And he’s telling me who to
talk to, who to write to. And the doors started opening. And I asked around as
I was coming out, like, in the community. When I was opening
a bank account, when I was going to DSHS and getting
benefits for food stamps because I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have anything. I came out of prison
with $300 in my pocket. That was it. And so the support that I’ve
gathered along the way– I was like, where
can I go to school, once I found out I could. And everybody in the community
has directed me to Highline. And so I figured Highline
has got a reputation. And I wasn’t shy about
coming out of prison, either. And so everybody knew
that I went to prison that I talked to. And they still
recommended Highline. So it’s a really good,
diverse community what we have here– a
really healthy community. And I think that that’s
important date for re-entry, for people coming out of prison. And so then I started
going to school. And I was afraid to come
here, coming out of prison. I’m afraid to talk to people,
afraid to get involved. And everybody was trying
to get me involved, but it just take steps. And so I’m really thankful for
everybody’s patience in this, too– allowing me to grow, creating
an atmosphere for all of us to grow. And education, through
the research I’ve done, and even through what
President Obama said, with some of the research
his team has done– how education helps communities. Education helps people. It reduces crime and
reduces recidivism. Yet, we spend more
money on prison and keeping people in
prison and locking people up than we do on educating people. That was one of the
things that really upset me was seen on the
news while I was in my cell and seeing how they’re taking
money away from schools and putting them in– and
building more prisons. That seems
counterintuitive to me. And so that’s kind of why–
that’s why we’re creating JSOC and why JSOC is to help people
coming out of prison get into school, and have a voice,
and become successful in life. And not only for them,
but for their families and for the people
impacted by the prison. Because we don’t want to– we don’t want to see them
end up in a cycle of crime or continued crime. We want to see
healed communities. We want to see them heal. We want to see them
succeed in life. That’s the only way we’re
going to change things. [APPLAUSE] So I have a question
for the panel. So after incarceration
and education, I do truly believe
that education is not just within thing your books. I believe that
education is universal. I believe that education is
a lifestyle, in all aspects. So for you all, when we
talk about education– and, matter of fact, let
met just pause real quick. Can I ask a show of hands,
how many people in here have known someone who’s been
incarcerated, been arrested, had any type of police contact– family members, cousin,
uncle, nephew, boo, spouse– whatever. Bam. A lot of y’all. OK. So for me, my
question is, I want to know– a lot of
people have biases about folks such as
myself, OK, and all my friends who are up here. So how would you– what advice– and I want to hear this from
each and every one of you. What advice would you give
to people to educate them about the– we are people. We believe in second chances. And that we do overcome
and we are not our past. Because sometimes, in this work
that we do, people have biases. Right? So how– and so, for me, I
know there’s a type of support that I needed for
people to understand. When it came to social
media, you know, there were still all these stigmas. How would you educate
people today as far as dealing with
someone when they say I have a criminal history
versus somebody going off about their biases? That was a loaded question. So how would I approach
somebody going off their biases, basically? Correct. Well, is what I can tell you,
for me, you know, I’m not– I’m not an inherent criminal. You know, I didn’t come out
of the womb and was like, you are destined
to go to prison. That’s just not what it is. OK? Like, there was a lot of things
that went into my choices. And I take responsibility
for the things that I did, but that doesn’t mean that
that’s who I am at my core, you know. And, really, to think that– to send people to prison,
and putting them in time out, and think that they’re
going to come out the other side
changed is just not– it’s just not realistic or– yeah, reality. So you know, when people
are biased, you know– and this is what I’ll actually
tell you, too, about addicts, about formerly incarcerated. Like, we’ve seen
the depths of hell. OK? Like, we’ve been
to a lot of places that I would never
wish on anybody. And I think that going there,
it really– when people do want to try and
they want to change, they put that much
more effort into it. And to not give them a
chance, to punish them for their entire life, to say
that they’re not good enough is exactly– it’s going against everything
that our criminal justice system is supposed to
state in the first place. You know, you’re supposed to– sure, be held accountable
for your crimes. But at the same time, when you
finished doing that portion, you’re supposed
to live in society as if anybody else were. But that’s just not the case. So I don’t know if that
answered the question but– yeah. So, again, so when you’re
dealing with people– so again, I said,
we’re educating, right? We’re educating people
about education or level of education. So also, I feel like
we have to teach people about certain things– our level of a re-entry
education understanding us. So for people who may said,
oh, yeah, you’re a criminal. You’re blah, blah, blah. How would you educate them on
what to say, what not to say, or how to be supportive
in your situation. I think I might have
an interesting answer to that question,
or a statement. To let you guys know a
little more about me, before I went to
prison, I sold pot. I grew pot. I’m the type of
person, regardless of what the law says, I want
to think and do my own research before I make a
decision on something. The reason I– you
know, some people might look at me
as, like, a criminal because I was dealing pot. I wasn’t paying taxes. That’s the big issue– I wasn’t paying taxes. And there’s other people who
would look at me as a freedom fighter because there is
like a big group of people that wanted this thing,
just like alcohol, but alcohol was legal. So in my mind I was,
like, what’s wrong here? Something’s not right. That’s why I kept on
doing that job that I had. But that’s not why
I went to prison. I went to prison because I
accidentally killed someone in a car accident. The way, like,
education is, it’s more like I look at education
as the state of learning. And learning happens
everywhere you are. You guys are all
learning right now. We’re all learning about things,
as well, from other people. And, like, an example
would be, like, the experience that I had
doing the job that I did and through prison,
as I came back to Highline– because I
was at Highline in 2000 when I was like 18. Lack of direction– nothing– nowhere– like, I don’t
know what I was doing. I was just, like,
thinking around. And then after
five years here, I was just like this isn’t
right for me right now. Maybe I’ll come back. But now that I came back and
I had that prison experience, it was a little weird for me. Like JJ said, it’s like, I’m 36. The people that are surrounding
me are about like 18, 16, stuff like that. So it’s kind of, like, weird. But, you know, then I think
back to when I was at that age, like, what was
going on in my head. Like, they lack
direction, people don’t really like to go talk to
other people, or ask for help. There’s a lot of pride. They get shy. So what I try to do, in terms
of like educating people– and I don’t hide the fact
that I went to prison. It’s like, you know, you can
look up my name on Google and you can find my story. And I’ve done that
myself just to look back and think, like, wow,
what does that really me? And I guess it was at that time,
but that’s not the me today. Me today, I try to
motivate people around me because I’ve already had that
extra like twice the years at an 18-year-old would have. So I know what they’re
going to expect. And to skip all
that time, you know, like rather than learning
the lesson the hard way, they can learn it
an easy way just by like seeing how someone
who already went through it talked about it. And at that point,
they don’t care that I went to prison anymore
because it’s just like, yeah, that happened in
my life, but I’m trying to do
something else with it and they encourage
that a lot more. So I think that’s part of
your life that, you know, it’s like a stamp on your
life, I guess you could say. It’s kind of like when
you go through customs, you got a bunch of stamps
before you actually make it to where you want to go. So that’s a stamp in
my life, but it’s not one that defines me. It only helps me to improve
the person that I am. So I guess, with that attitude,
people just kind of see me differently than, like, oh,
he’s going to go back and do all this crazy stuff. But, I might. I don’t know yet, but
let’s see what happens. Let me have that
opportunity to find out. [APPLAUSE] So one of the– I mean, what I do,
personally, right, is I just talk to people. One of the things for me is
standing on my story, right. I don’t live in shame
and guilt, right. And so I’ll lead with
that sometimes, right. And I kind of use it
as a filter at times because if you’re going to
judge me because of that, then maybe you’re not the
kind of person I want my life. But maybe if you want
to listen and try to get to know somebody,
then that’s cool too. Right? And so I think the work is kind
of what we’re doing right here, you know, humanizing
people, right. [APPLAUSE] Yes. It’s about humanization because
the mass media and everything has, like, totally
distorted what people that have backgrounds are. Right? Like, we’re these
inherent criminals. But we’re far more complex
than our worst last decision. And so it’s interesting
because I talk to people and I’ve had this said to me– JJ, you don’t look like
you’ve been to prison. Right? I’m like, what does somebody
look like who’s been to prison? Right? Well, you talk really well. Yeah, you know, I mean, like– and so people just have a real
distorted view of who we are. And it’s not that they have,
like, these bad hearts, right. They’re only responding
to their conditioning. And so that is a lot
of the work that we do is justice involved student
group, is these type of panels. We’re also doing
work on campus– well, we’re building up to this
to where we can train, like, the housing people, the housing
committee, HR and everything because they’re all operating
in those stigmas, too. But what I found is, when
we get in front of people, we tell our stories,
we’re honest. And then people are like, oh. Right? And they open up. And it breaks down
those stigmas. An interesting story for me
is when I was a student here and I was looking
for student housing. And I found a person who was
renting a house just right across the street. She rented rooms to students. And so I went in there and
I just told her my story. I’m, you know, on
federal probation. And she said, JJ, that’s scary. But because you’re honest, I’m
going to give you a chance. Right? And so, wouldn’t you know it? I, eventually, was the
house manager handling all her money and everything. And then the person who
came there behind me was another formerly
incarcerated person. So it’s just that
stigma-breaking stuff. So, like, some of you that
I don’t know in this room might walk in with,
oh, we going in here to see these criminals, right. And hopefully you’ll walk
out with a different view, with some knowledge. And so it is– it’s around education, too,
because most people that are in prison are in
prison because of poverty and mental health, right. Most people that are in
prison aren’t sociopaths. They’re just people that
have been marginalized by an unjust system that we
live in– by our government, by our economic system. You don’t want me to start
going off on that stuff. But anyway, it’s– [INAUDIBLE] But that’s part of
the education piece, right, is educating
people to why we’re the– we have 5% of the world’s
population in this country, but we have 25% of the
world’s prison population? In the land of the free. And so, I mean,
you know, there’s got to be something going on. Right? And so, and then when
you look at the numbers, disproportionately,
it’s people of color. Right? Yeah. I can’t– I’ll go
deep on that stuff because that’s the education
that I got, though. And so one thing about
education for me, right, is I lived through poverty. I lived through racism. I’ve lived through mass
incarceration, addiction, and all these things. But going back to school,
now, I have a context of what those things are. So one of the threshold
concepts for me this year in the Gateways for Incarcerated
Youth Program– it’s a year-long program that I’m
in at Evergreen is John Dewey. He was a popular educator
in the 1920s and 30s. And his definition of
experience, right– there’s a primary experience–
what you actually physically experience and see. And then there’s a
secondary experience. That’s when you’re able to
give the context to that. And so what education
has done has given me the context to my
experience to make me a fully experienced person. And so I’ve studied a
lot of political economy, social movements,
mass incarceration, popular education,
even some brain science around trauma, right? Like, I was in
class, right, and I was experiencing these feelings
that I recognized from before. And today I knew I could
tell you what it was. It was trauma being
reactivated in my body around, like, privilege and
stuff like that, around people saying– so
me being the only black man and formerly incarcerated
person in my class with a bunch of privileged
students, right. Things were being said. And I’m like– but,
at first, I was like, man, what’s going on JJ? Why you getting so upset, right? And I had to just
step back and reflect. And I realized that that
was that trauma that– so that generational
trauma that we have being the descendants of
slaves and stuff like that. Right? And so that was that
being reactivated. But at least now I
can recognize that and know how to deal with that
in a proper productive manner and everything. And so, yeah. It’s just it’s around that
educate– we’ve got to– man, you know,
the way things are is that they want to
just keep us ignorant. And that’s how they keep
us separated as a people. Right? Because us as a people– poor white folks,
people of color, you know, we got
way more in common, and we’ve got a common
enemy than that. And we, but– they figured
out how to keep us separate. Right? And so, anyway, so
I’m going to pass. [APPLAUSE] I liked your answer. That was good. Thank you. So I try to just only
worry about the things that are within my control. And so I really have no
control over how other people view me, see me, or judge me. I show them the
best me as I can. And I try to be the part
a positive influence the best I know how to be
for myself, for my family, the people I love
and care about, but also to create an example
for people coming after me. It’s important. You know, everybody’s
got to– you know, if people can identify with
me– or if the people that can identify with me because
we have similar stories or similar backgrounds in crime,
if I’m not a good example, then I’m leading them
down the wrong path. But if I am being
a good example, then I’m leading them
down the right path. And I show– so I show people. There was a guy that– he’s doing some oil fracking and
he’s invented this new tractor. And he’s got a huge
company down in Oregon. And he used to come into
prisons and do mock interviews. And when he first heard my
story, he was very judgmental. And then he asked
me this question. He says, now, why is it
important for me to hire you? Because that was does like the
beginning of the interview. There was like no interview. There was just my crime. And you’re a criminal. And so he does that
to put you in shock. Like, what makes
somebody valuable to be hired despite their
background, despite their past? Because, oftentimes,
people see our past and they just judge
us by that and we have to be willing to
show them more than that. We’ve got to be willing to
show them who we are today. Our past is always
going to be our past. We can’t change that. I have control over right now
and my future ahead of me. By the choices I’ve made for my
past, I can learn from those. I can become better. And that’s true for everybody. There’s nothing I can do
about my past, though. And if they want to judge
me on that, that’s on them. But to me, that’s
out of ignorance. That’s not out of–
that’s not out of reality. And that’s happened. That’s part of who– that’s
part of the society we live in. That’s one of the reasons why
I’m trying to create change to help people succeed. Thank you. All righty. Well, we got to two out
of my seven questions. So if anyone wants to stay
and continue the conversation, that’s fine. But it is 2 o’clock
and I think there’s going to be another great
lecture starting really soon. So thank you all
so much for coming. And can we have another round
of applause for our panelists? [APPLAUSE]

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