Lessons from current and former inmates

By Paul Kibala
Correspondent

Former inmates share their current successes and what being in Project P.R.I.D.E. has meant to them. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)
Former inmates share their current successes and what being in Project P.R.I.D.E. has meant to them. (Courtney Wirths / Photo Editor)

Three current prison inmates filled the Mayo Concert Hall with poignant and personal stories of the varied wrongdoings that landed them in their current situations.This event, which took place on Wednesday, April 2, was part of Justice System Awareness Week and instituted through Project P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Responsibility in Drug Education), a program that allows minimum-security inmates to discuss the decisions that resulted their incarceration at schools and community settings.

Allie, 22, three years into a six-year sentence, spoke of the tragic loss and betrayal that plagued her childhood.

“My father committed suicide when I was 10,” she said. “He was depressed and thought I would be better off without him.”

The uncle — who played the role of a surrogate father — soon began physically abusing her, and several months later, her best friend passed away.

“By 15, the façade of being okay all the time, the one I had built up for years, came crashing down, and I became hooked to the escape of hard drugs,” she said, commenting on the internal overflow of restrained emotion.

She was driving while drunk and high on marijuana at the age of 17 when she crashed into another car and killed the driver.

“I know what it’s like to lose a father, and on that day I took someone else’s father,” Allie said. “I vowed then and there to straighten up my life.”

Next to speak was Mike, 27, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence. Raised without a father, he assumed the role to help provide for his mother.

“I took the easy route,” he said, referring to the many robberies he committed to keep his family financially stable. “Having my family see me in that cell for the first time and realizing they’re the ones who have to send me money is the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

Last to speak was Rachel, 28, who was raised in a seedy living environment by her grandmother and her drug dealer boyfriend after being taken from her physically-abusive stepfather.

Rachel’s life went into a downward spiral after her grandmother died while Rachel was pregnant at age 20. She smoked and drank alcohol throughout the pregnancy. Several months after the birth, Rachel crashed a car while drunk and fled from the police before eventually being captured.

“I would’ve reached out — I would’ve talked to somebody because as lonely as it is on the outside, it’s a lot lonelier in prison,” she said.

Rachel is not allowed to see her daughter.

Diverging from bleak realities of prison life and the choices that led to incarceration, Justice System Awareness Week ended on Thursday, April 3, on an uplifting note as former inmates spoke of their current success after prison life at the Library Auditorium.

Amy Rodriguez, 34, a graduate student at Rutgers University with a 3.6 GPA, spoke of the distinct value of education.

“While in prison, I realized just how important education truly is to bettering oneself, and it’s something I’m grateful to pursue,” Rodriguez said.

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