How did you get involved with CGA?
I was working at the prison’s “print shop.” This was my work detail. One of my co-workers, Kane Miller, would take Wednesdays off every week and go to some “literature class.” I thought that was interesting, but I knew they wouldn’t let both of us stay out on Wednesdays, so I didn’t try to sign up for the class. I eventually left that work detail, and Kane told me I should sign up for the class. So, I went to the Education building on a Wednesday morning and met a very nice lady with a big warm smile named Sarah Higinbotham. She told me to come to the next class, which I did. There I met a very nice man named Bill Taft. Then I just sort of stuck around for the next six years.
What has your experience with CGA been like?
Transformative. Enlightening. Humanizing.
It’s been transformative because an education pushes you to look at the world from different perspectives. This led me to grow as a person. Also, the teachers at CGA believe in us when it seems like no one else does. This gave me more confidence in myself and pushed me to grow as a student.
It’s been enlightening because I have learned so much. I learned about history, great literature, math, acting, and even a little neuroscience. And some of these experiences will stick with me for the rest of my life—experiences like holding a human brain in a neuroscience class, for example. Or watching Sarah Higinbotham use shadows created by a projector to teach us about Plato’s Cave. Or of John Bell pacing the halls in the prison’s Education building while we were testing because he was so genuinely invested in our success. Or of Bill Taft teaching us about the craft of writing and doing a spot-on Liam Neeson impersonation.
And it’s been humanizing because the teachers at CGA have all viewed us like human beings instead of lowly criminals. The prison system is essentially designed to dehumanize inmates. Once we enter “the system,” we are treated like nothing more than numbers and the lowest society has to offer. If we’re not careful, we can internalize this and believe it ourselves, which only drags us down further. But when intelligent, educated people come in and treat you like a person, it counteracts the dehumanizing effects of prison.
You have been an active member of our alumni community. What has that meant to you?
It means I’m a part of a community that’s about something positive, which makes me feel like I’m not alone trying to make it in the world after many years in prison. Being a part of a community helps a lot in that regard. Returning home from prison after many years is not easy. We face many hurdles, but if we have a community that has our back, it makes jumping those hurdles a lot easier.
I also want to give back in some way. CGA has helped me so much both while I was incarcerated and now while I’m in the “free world.” And I know it can help many more people. So I want to do anything I can do to support CGA.
Tell us about your passions and what you are involved with outside of CGA.
I was involved in another great program while I was incarcerated. That program is called Hello World. It’s one of the few programs in the country that teach prisoners computer programming. For years while incarcerated, I would write an essay for a CGA class one day and code for an application I worked on in Hello World the next day. That was not how I envisioned my life in prison when I was sentenced!
Computer programming and building applications have been a passion of mine since signing up for Hello World. That led to me starting a freelance app-developed career after being released from prison. I’ve developed quite a few apps for clients. And as of recently, I am now a software engineer for a big-tech company! And I work 100% remotely, so this is my dream job. I believe the education I received from CGA also helped prepare me for my career since it’s not all about writing code.
What do you want to make sure the CGA Community knows about you and/or CGA?
That I am very, very appreciative of the CGA program. And especially Sarah and Bill and all the teachers and tutors who gave their time to go inside a prison and teach a group of prisoners. They have all inspired me to be the best version of myself. And they have taught me so much.
Please add any additional information you would like me to know and include.
I’ve been out of prison for about a year and a half now, and I’m committed to moving forward and never returning. I’m on a good path today, but I don’t know what path I would be on now if it weren’t for CGA. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. And they showed me a better way.