As you prepare to graduate from the Prison University Project, what kind of legacy do you want to leave? How do you want your life to touch others in the College Program, at San Quentin, and in the larger community?
Education is important. Most look at college as a means for getting a sheet of paper to qualify for a job. That is a shallow view of the value of education. The years it takes to graduate from college prepares you for whatever the future holds. I missed out on so much when I tried to ignore the merits of a good education. College courses are not engineered to completely change your minds about your life, either. In a means-to-an-end sort of way, all a college course does is give you just enough curriculum to meet the professors’ criteria for passing the class. Go deeper into classes. Is it such a bad thing if it changes something about you? What if the class teaches you something right that you thought about wrongly? I would say, make it a point to welcome the change in your life that comes with education.
What has been your favorite school assignment, and why? What did you learn?
I cannot point to a single school assignment that I can call my favorite. I can indeed point to my college experience as a whole, and say it was far beyond my expectations. Prison sucks. Straight up. I am incredible grateful to the Prison University Project, because the volunteers here could be doing literally anything else: teaching at renowned schools, owning their own businesses, skiing in Aspen…anything. Instead, they choose to spend their time in here, working with us. That is an incredible blessing. I am an interactive learner. I need to be able to speak to a teacher when I have questions, instead of watching a video over and over. It is really good to be able to come to an actual classroom and have an actual class. Hearing ideas from teachers and students at the same time is the best way to learn, in my opinion.
What piece of work are you most proud of, and why?
During a chemistry midterm exam, I came across an extra credit question that read, “Make us laugh! Tell us a chemistry joke!” I could not think of a single thing resembling a joke, so I wrote a poem I called “Human Element.” It is a poem about finding identity through the periodic table, and had some terminology from the course as well. Honestly, all I was trying to do was get an extra five points. I have learned that sometimes we write what we feel without trying. I would never have learned that without coming to college. Another piece I wrote was called “The Rock, the River, and the Tree,” which was about being American, word to Walt Whitman. It got published in OpenLine a few years ago. It started as an assignment for English 99A. I did a set of film boards for Introduction to Film, too.
If you could share one piece of advice with incoming students, what would it be?
I would say, take your education seriously. It is a great opportunity to attend college, and there are a lot of great classes and teachers that will make your life better for having experienced and known them. This is a chance of a lifetime, and to miss it is to do yourself a grievous disservice. A chance for an education is not given to everyone the way some think it is. Indeed, I had to work extra hard to even consider going to college. The professors are in your corner, and the classes themselves are interactive and dynamic and informative.
Beyond completing your AA Degree, what other goals have you set for yourself?
I want to teach. I have to go back to school so I can learn more. I want to learn how to use computers for CGI, video games, films, and websites, as well as for educational and vocational means, including hardware and software programming. Once I learn all that, I want to teach others to do the same. I am also into spreading art and creativity, and in this digital world, computers are the way to go. I also want to use my writing to effect social change. As an emcee, I feel a burning need to make people aware of what is happening in the world, and to open up discussions about what to do about changing those harmful issues in a positive way.
What has been the most challenging part of being a college student? Is there a time you’ve had to push yourself outside of your comfort zone? Tell us about it.
Time management has been one of the biggest obstacles in my whole educational career. For the most part, the furthest outside my comfort zone I have had to go was during a Communications class. Writing lyrics and writing speeches are similar, in that you have to work with and regulate what you say to have maximum impact, establish credibility, and tug at the heartstrings of your listeners. The nervousness is born of wanting to get whatever it is you have to say across to all listeners without flaw, to deliver the message properly. Public speaking and rapping on the street corner barely differ in terms of audience, also. I have given speeches in classrooms, served emcees in clubs and the streets, and written essays for juveniles and whoever else wants to read them. I would never have done anything like that if it were not for college, especially with the Prison University Project.
What do people most commonly misunderstand about the criminal justice system, and about incarcerated people? What do you wish people understood?
I have researched and learned that the bulk of people are under the impression that the criminal justice system is beyond reproach, and that all incarcerated people do is kill and rape each other. The stereotype further states that we are the lowest of the low, and that it is our fault that society is failing. First of all, we do not spend our time killing and raping each other. It does happen, but those occasions are exceedingly rare. Time is spent working on ourselves so we can join society and be a benefit rather than a hindrance. Also, the criminal justice system is broken, and change needs to happen so justice can prevail. All of us, incarcerated and free, are responsible for that, and we need to fix it together.
Tell us about an instructor or tutor who has been especially influential in your experience as a student. How has s/he impacted you?
I cannot point to a single instructor or tutor that has been very influential in my college career here. Every teacher and tutor I have interacted with has had an impact on my educational endeavors. The teaching methods and curriculum have helped me in my own aspirations to become a teacher myself one day. Being able to talk to instructors that are open-minded and dedicated to actually helping instead of just going through the motions is key. It makes me want to be more involved in the educational progress of every student that asks me for help along the way.
What does Liberal Arts Education mean to you? Why study liberal arts?
Liberal Arts helps you prepare for more specialized areas of study. By studying a broad array of subjects, not only will you get a bit of knowledge about a lot of things, but you will gain the skills needed to further your educational goals. The Liberal Arts cover all educational pursuits in some way, or can at least be helpful and foundational. Also, Liberal Arts drive our lives, and studying them can help with navigating and functioning in the world, and having that sturdy foundation and knowledge can aid in bringing about change in the world, so it’s a better place for our future generations.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about so many things. Literacy. Gaming. Mathematics. Social change. Battle. Hip hop. Science fiction. Suns. Astrophysics. Education as a whole. I suppose all of these things, for me, are seen in terms of battle. Not that I am combative, or overly aggressive, or mean-spirited. Quite the opposite, in some cases. Battle, to me, is art and science combined. I have had to fight and struggle my entire life, with bullying classmates and teachers, family members and strangers, and especially with myself. Most of my life is spent girding for eventual battle, so I can have a chance to win, or at least participate fully in any and every battle, from social change to expanding my horizons.
Are you involved in any activities outside of PUP? What are they, and why are they important to you?
I am in the process of publishing my first book, and I am very excited about it. I strive to promote literacy and education, and while my book, Triumph, is science fiction, there is still a good amount of education that went into writing it. I also write for social change, mentoring young people so that they can live better than I have. The children are literally our future, and I want a better world for them, so they can improve the world for their children.
I am also an avid gamer. Games improve cognitive function and prosocial behavior. I apply gaming techniques in my life, including in educational pursuits, and when engaging in battle.
Who are the people in your life who have helped you succeed? Tell us about them.
The volunteers at the Prison University Project have helped me succeed, to be sure. My parents encouraged me to be the best I can be no matter what I do in life, so completing college is a great accomplishment for me. My friends and fellow classmates have helped me immensely, or those that really wanted to help me, at any rate. Mostly, though, I had to make a conscious choice to listen to those people who wanted to see me do better in life. To ignore the encouragement given by people who care enough to see me succeed is foolish, and would be detrimental to life as I know it. My self-esteem is better, too, because knowing people care is the best motivator ever.
What are some words of wisdom, congratulations, or encouragement that you’d like to share with your fellow graduates?
Congratulations to every graduate, whether it is from high school, getting a GED or high school equivalency, college – inside and out – those paroling and graduating to the street, those going through self-help groups, picking up coins for sobriety, and everything in between. Congratulations. Keep on fighting to make the world a better place. The world needs us to keep fighting, keep motivating each other, keep succeeding, so the future generations can follow our example. “When you know better, you do better” is the cliche people use, but it is the truth. Remember, though, that the more you know, the more you owe. Another cliche about sharing knowledge, which benefits everyone. Thank you.