Growing up, there was never a question of whether or not I would finish high school. In a middle-class upbringing in Amelia, OH, my peers just assumed I would. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that getting a diploma or GED is not a given — it’s a privilege.
Going to jail (and eventually prison) was an experience I needed to have to find my humility and humanity. While inside, I realized that I was no better (or worse) than anyone else, and success in this life could never be defined by money or material things. I envied those who found peace behind bars — the ones doing real time seemed more content than those who only had a few months. It wasn’t because they had given in, but because they had found purpose.
So how does a person find purpose? I am no expert, but I found mine through pain. The pain of living with substance use disorder — and getting arrested for it — first angered me. I felt angry at the system and angry at myself. I couldn’t understand why I kept making the same mistakes, especially at the risk of going to prison for violating my probation. It wasn’t until I learned about my disease that I began to see anger as an emotion that would keep me trapped in active addiction. I had to do the hardest thing possible: forgive and love myself.
Once I began to realize I had more to do in this life, I began educating myself. For some, education might mean getting a GED or diploma. For others, it might mean going to college or trade school. But education can be just learning something new.
I recently sat down with Joseph, a former inmate who wrote to RISE while incarcerated. Joseph first shared his amazing story with us after reading our paper in the Justice Center — it really spoke to me. He has been in and out of jail and also suffers from the disease of addiction. When we met, he had only two days until his release.
I asked Joseph, “What has changed to keep you from going back to your old environment and maybe getting yourself locked up again?”
Joseph said, “[Before], it was all about me, and now it’s not so much what I can get out of the world, but what I can put into the world.”
As a father of five, Joseph knew he needed to make a change. He was willing to do whatever it took to educate himself and leave a better man.
While incarcerated, Joseph chose to participate in a 12-week program led by ex-Bengal David Fulcher that focuses on being responsible fathers, sons and members of the community.
Like Joseph, it’s possible to use your time while incarcerated for self care. Read a book, get your GED, or get involved with one of the programs offered inside the facility. There are also many programs outside that can help you get back on your feet, further your education and get the job you want.
Rising up means improving your situation, empowering yourself with knowledge, and choosing to do the right thing — even when nobody’s looking. I hope you enjoy this issue about education and that it inspires you to learn something new.