Prisoners discuss life before incarceration

By Lara Becker
Correspondent

Keisha was the MVP of her basketball team for three years as a highschooler, but by the time she got to St. Peter’s University, she had slipped into habits like drinking and smoking. Soon enough, she was selling drugs, which landed her a 20-year prison sentence.

Prisoners share their stories with the campus community. (Meagan McDowell / Photo Editor)

“I was headed down the wrong path, but I was too blind to see it,” she said.

As students filed into the Education Building Room 115 on Oct. 9 for Project P.R.I.D.E, all they could see were four people in bright orange prison uniforms. What they could not see was the adversity they each faced, and the stories that made them more than just another faceless prisoner.

The Petey Greene Program coordinates tutoring sessions for people who are incarcerated, allowing them to make advances toward academic success during their sentences. As of 2018, they are celebrating their tenth year of bringing these tutors to several prisons along the east coast. The program is sponsored by Students for Prison Education and Reform at the College, who present Project P.R.I.D.E annually.

Ayman came from a stable home life, where he was never really exposed to crime. He rhetorically asked the audience, “How did I end up in this world? A world of rapists, kidnappers and criminals?”

When Ayman started drinking and doing drugs at age 12, a friend warned him, “A dance with the devil could last forever.”

Ayman only understood the gravity of the quote after he faced consequences for his choices. At the time, it was not enough to stop him from spiraling into long-term addiction, which resulted in a drunk driving accident and an eight-and-a-half-year sentence.

Chris inherited an addictive personality from his parents, who suffered from years of drug abuse. By the time he was 18, he was living on the streets with his brother and selling heroin to get by. When he was caught, Chris was sentenced to five years in prison.

“If you’d told me I’d be in prison for selling drugs, I’d tell you that you’re crazy, but look where I am now,” he said.

Nicole’s mother died when she was 12, which triggered the beginning of her drug abuse. After Nicole got into an altercation with a group of girls, the fight resulted in a 15-year prison sentence.

“I thought I could be involved in drugs and not in the culture that came along with it,” she said.

Each speaker stressed that the people you surround yourself with will ultimately determine who you will become.

The presenters also wanted students to know that they are not indestructible, despite what they may think. Ayman mentioned this as he discussed the normalization of alcohol and drugs in college settings.

“Be mindful,” Chris said. “Life can get away from you, and it could happen to anyone.”

Petey Greene tutors who attended the event were glad to help spread awareness about drug use and addiction to the campus community.

“You can tell it makes such a difference just in those two hours,” said Viane Villanueva, a sophomore nursing major and Petey Greene tutor. “It helps (prisoners) move forward in their life and achieve their aspirations and goals.”

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