I entered the justice system at the youthful age of 20, facing 60 years in prison for violent felonies. I would later plead to an 18-year sentence, almost the same amount of time I had been alive and exactly the number of years it would take my newborn child to become a legal adult. That was the news I received from my first phone call home after arrest; “I’m pregnant.” Facing what may as well have been a life sentence, knowing I had a child on the way, who could grow up without a father, I was left contemplating how I could turn my life around.
The first year of my incarceration I continued to perpetuate poor decision making. It wasn’t until I held my child for the first time that I experienced a true paradigm shift. I was a parent now and life wasn’t about me anymore; it was about my son. I started release planning with 17 years to serve, enrolled in education and sought out every opportunity for self-development, but change takes time and persistence. At every institution, I invested my time in the education department, while fighting in the courts to continue seeing my son every weekend. I was awarded weekly visits, and my son was my guiding light and life’s priority.
Halfway through my sentence I lost my mother and spent my inmate savings to go to her funeral. I weighed the option of continuing weekly visits with my son or moving to an institution that offered degree programs. I knew that I had to have tangible, marketable tools to gain employment, so I made the tough decision to move hours away from my son to pursue my degree. It would not only result in earning my associate degree, but in earning a scholarship through the Prison Scholar Fund to pursue my bachelor’s degree.
As my sentence neared its end, I focused on applying for the Graduated Reentry Program (GRE). I was awarded a scholarship from the Prison Scholar Fund to attend a Software Engineering & Web Development Bootcamp through the Coding Dojo, while participating in the GRE program at Brownstone Work Release. I immediately started the program upon my arrival at the work release in June, walking to Goodwill Industries every day to utilize their Wi-Fi and computer lab during school hours. Completing the program with superior marks, I was offered immediate remote employment with the Coding Dojo following my graduation in September to instruct software development.
The GRE program presents a life changing opportunity, I knew I had to take advantage of it by using every waking hour. I entered our justice system with no marketable skills, nor professional employment experience. I utilized fifteen years of Correctional Industries experience to get a second job as a Graveyard Production Supervisor, with a wage of 30 plus per hour. I worked two full-time jobs and slept five hours a night, spending my weekends with my son. Transferring from custody to ankle monitor, I was offered a position working remotely with the Prison Scholar Fund to facilitate their Digital Equity curriculum, teaching the formerly incarcerated about technology advancements and job search tools. With custody approval, I accepted the position and worked three jobs to save as much as possible for release.
I made my final transition into society in May of 2023. The first four months of GRE were spent pursuing education and every month after was spent working two or more jobs to ensure a successful reentry. I left prison with no savings, just a solid plan to work hard and create a life for my son. I’ve now transitioned into society, I have two full-time remote positions, living in a newer large home, and driving a luxury vehicle. My son’s sporting games are a priority, along with chasing goals to purchase a home. I am now a Director of Operations with the Prison Scholar Fund and work on the instruction team with the Coding Dojo. Although I’ve done this on my own, I couldn’t have done it without the Graduated Reentry Program.
The Graduated Reentry Program saved my life. Without the GRE program I would have been released after 15 straight years of prison with no savings, because I spent it to attend my mother’s funeral, and forty dollars gate money. GRE presents the path for the incarcerated to truly prepare for release, to enter society with structure, to find a job and start saving. The program nurtures community relationship building, improves community safety by releasing individuals that are prepared to reenter society, and provides a platform for individuals who have earned their participation to launch their lives with support. My success is largely attributed to the Graduated Reentry Program.
I want to share a personal thanks to all of the Department of Corrections (DOC) staff throughout my incarceration who made my success possible. I won’t list specific names because every staff member who positively influenced my incarceration deserves to be listed; you helped change my life and cultivate true rehabilitation. Those members of the DOC team who touched my life will remember, and please know that my success is yours. Thank you.