What has been your favorite school assignment, and why?
My favorite school assignment was writing a 20-page research paper for English 204. This was my favorite assignment because it gave me the opportunity to thoroughly research a subject that I was very passionate about. So it really wasn’t a school assignment at all. It was more like a passion project that I received college credits for. The subject of my research paper was the historical relationship between African-Americans and entrepreneurship. What I discovered wasn’t only surprising, but eye-opening. I learned that not only had former slaves used entrepreneurship as a means to purchase the freedom of themselves and their families, but also that post-antebellum African-American cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Durham) used entrepreneurship to create thriving self-sustaining business markets. This made me think, if black people could do this during a time when access to resources was virtually non-existent, what’s stopping any of us in this day and age from achieving the same success? This assignment led me to see the parallels between slaves and convicted felons, and also to see the exciting potential that exists within entrepreneurship.
Beyond graduation, what goals have you set for yourself?
Beyond completing my AA Degree, I intend to return back to school in order to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. Ultimately, my goal is to earn an M.B.A. It will be a challenge, but that is a goal that I’ve set for myself. Earning an Associate Degree is a huge accomplishment, but now I kind of feel like I’m only halfway there. I still have a ways to go and I plan on taking many breaks in the interim, but I will accomplish what I set out to do. Business – more specifically, entrepreneurship – is something that I’m passionate about and I’m excited about all that I have yet to learn. But what’s even more exciting will be finding creative ways to apply all that I learn to my everyday life.
What do people most commonly misunderstand about the criminal justice system, and about incarcerated people?
I think people commonly misunderstand that an incarcerated person’s intelligence isn’t always measured by their education level. I wish people understood how important critical thinking is and the impact that teaching this skill could have on the criminal justice system in general. Speaking for myself, critical thinking has allowed me to unlock my inherent intelligence and approach life in a much more thoughtful and compassionate way.
What are you passionate about?
What I’m most passionate about is entrepreneurship. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship because it is the one legitimate career path that I can pursue that won’t leave me feeling like I’ve sold out. Entrepreneurship allows me to be me. It doesn’t restrict or confine me to the structure of the traditional workplace. I can be my own boss, and most important of all, as a convicted felon, entrepreneurship frees me from being at the mercy of the stigmas and biases of a discriminatory job market that will use my past against me. I’m also passionate about entrepreneurship because I believe it can be used to equip individuals like myself with a tool that is used to help rebuild the communities that I contributed to destroying.
Are you involved in any activities outside of the Prison University Project?
An activity that I’m involved with outside of the Prison University Project is the San Quentin Prison Report (SQPR). SQPR is a multi-media production program that is run exclusively by prisoners. Our mission is to highlight the rehabilitative work of San Quentin’s incarcerated population. I serve as managing editor of SQPR and this program is important to me because it affords me the rare opportunity to be trained in audio and video production. It also affords me the opportunity to counter the negative stereotypes of prisons and prisoners that dominate the national media.
What are some words of wisdom, congratulations, or encouragement that you’d like to share with your fellow graduates?
To my fellow graduates, I would like to say that this degree demonstrates that our only limitations are the limitations we place on ourselves. This degree is a testament to our tenacity, our resilience, and to our ability to see something through until the end. There were plenty of times when it felt like this process would never end, but we never gave up and now this leg of the race is complete. We can do whatever we put our minds to and because of this no obstacle is insurmountable. Getting this degree was not easy-actually, it was pretty difficult – and it nobody commends us for it, let me be the first to do it. We did that and we bosses for this. So congrats to us.