As you prepare to graduate, what kind of legacy do you want to leave for the college community? How do you want your life to touch others in the College Program, at San Quentin, and in the larger community?
My journey in education was a rocky road of confusion and uncertainty because as an adolescent, and as a young adult I had no interest in education. It’s mechanisms of math and literature was like a foreign language to me. Due to this confusion I found myself shying away from education, and I began to live and learn life by my human instincts. I did not tap into my educational abilities and interest until I was in my early twenties, but unfortunately by that time I had made some bad judgment decisions which led me to prison at the age of seventeen. The intellectual and educational tools I’ve learned while obtaining my AA Degree have broadened my knowledge and understanding about every facet of life, government, culture, and how we live as human beings. Living by your human instincts can never give you the insight into the world we live in like education can. Education builds your understanding of the world. It ignites your intellect, which leads to your ability to comprehend the world we live in. Education was the key to my enlightenment and insight to amelioration of a successful life.
What has been your favorite class, and why?
Public Health. We were given an assignment to draft a grant proposal on a topic of our own choosing. I chose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in incarcerated people. I chose this topic because I wanted to learn more about my own PTSD symptoms and causes, as well as to help those who have related challenges. I’ve learned that this is truly an issue that needs to be addressed by those in authority. PTSD is a real problem in the penal system across America, however, there is little being done to address this severe psychological disorder. Studying PTSD has taught me of my own systems and how to address them through self-help groups.
If you could share one piece of advice with incoming students, what would it be?
No matter what position you find yourself in, whether it be freedom or incarceration, rich or poor. No matter what race or color, or what gang or organization you find compatibility. Remember the only way to find true freedom is through education. It opens a whole new horizon of knowledge and opportunity for you to challenge your personal beliefs and values, to restructure, to add, and to explore new ideologies. New information can make you a better human being. It is only through education that you can begin to challenge you!
Beyond completing your AA Degree, what goals have you set for yourself?
Completing my AA Degree is just the beginning, although I’m advanced in age, and a late bloomer with my educational endeavors. I plan to continue higher education. My next goal is to get my BA in Juvenile Justice/Counseling. I wish to help at-risk youth to build life skills.
What has been the most challenging part of being a college student?
I’ve never been a public speaker, so going into my communications class was quite challenging. I had to overcome my fears of public speaking by practicing and performing class speeches. Even to this day, I still find it unsettling to speak in public settings.
Who are the people in your life who have helped you succeed?
There is a network of people who have, and continue to, assist in my reintegration and success. My mother (Mary Benton), who has been in my corner since birth, adolescence, and adult life. She has stood by me throughout my good and bad times in life. She’s been my back bone and best friend when all others failed me. Even when I’ve failed her, she continued to show me unconditional love and support. Then there’s my daughter (Keiyana Blackwell), who has given me her undying love despite the fact that I’ve been incarcerated all her life. Also, there is the show of support from all of my friends and family members, who continue to encourage me through letters and phone calls. They are proud of my positive accomplishments. And last but not least, are all of my University teachers and tutors, who’ve taught and tutored me to be the best that I can be in my educational endeavors. Thank you all.
What are some words of wisdom, congratulations, or encouragement that you’d like to share with your fellow graduates?
Never forget the purpose, or why you chose to pursue your higher education. The fuel that sparked the fire for your desire to obtain your AA Degree. Never forget that determination to better yourself. Never forget the shadows of darkness you’ve come from to the shining light of success that only education can give. Congratulations to you. This is only the beginning.