People cannot help but learn, from our first breath we become learning being, and this education does not end until we take our last breath. Years after we learn the most important things about life, we begin Kindergarten and our formal academic careers.

I was also an extremely social kid and so the chance to meet so many new friends outweighed my fears. I did accidently kick a kid named Walter in the face my first day, he did tell my teacher, and she took me to the Principle’s office. I received three “licks,” owing to the fact they didn’t believe the situation was as innocuous as I claimed. Is was, and maintain my innocence to this day.

By the fourth grade the labels began: ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Bi-Polar. Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Cylert soon followed. The learning part of my academic career was over by the sixth grade. I was just trying to pass, my mind fogged with medications, my mental divergence a thing to be ashamed of. I barely graduated High School because, somewhere along the way, I decided my parent’s had thrown me away like a used heroin jig and I didn’t react well.

Maybe prison was inevitable, I’d like to think it wasn’t, like the Fates are just a myth and I weave my own destiny, but I just don’t know. The Judge’s gavel slammed down after sentencing me to thirty years and the only hope of “normal” for the next decades were college classes.

My first experience in Prison Higher Education was terrifying. Not for me, but for the aptly named Professor Yawn, who was a government teacher. I realize the mind jumps to shanks and tattooed tear drops upon sullen faces, but the danger that day was entirely different; it was the heat. The classroom had been a car garage used as an auto-brakes class. With some sheetrock and tables they turned it into a Lee College classroom.

Enter the aforementioned Mr. Yawn. The first day we all sat in the metal fab building in the height of the south Texas summer, with no air-conditioner, watched the professor sweat so profusely I was desperately going over my first aid safety lessons, because I knew he was going to have a heart attack for from any competent medical care.

I’m happy to report Mr. Yawn survived that first class and the entire summer. I learned a lot about government from him and he learned to bring extra water to class. That was the beginning of my love affair with education.

Later the same day I went to my second college class. It was English 1301 and I had every expectation to barely pass the course, loathing each three hour period until the end. I had to take at least one English class and I thought I’d get it over with at the start.

I’ve hated English since for forever, because I couldn’t try as I may, understand the concept of grammar. To this day I have no idea what a past-participle is and why that’s important. As I walked into my first college English class my jaw was set, my heart hardened, and my mind was closed.

I know the professor doesn’t remember me, my essays probably weren’t life changing for him, and my readings of the various texts were as confused as any other freshman English student. I will always remember him though, because he made me feel like a person for the first time in a long time. He made me feel like I hadn’t since I was that fourth grade kid who was told
he couldn’t learn right.

My entire life I was labeled, named, and crushed into a thousand different boxes. Professor Chilton opened these boxes. Words like orphan, cast-off, and felon were swept aside for each three hour period. He spoke to the class, but also allowed the class to speak. He listened, and even claimed to want to learn from us, and I think he actually did. Instead of lowering the bar for a “prison degree” Mr. Chilton raised the bar saying, “You will do the work of any ‘free world’ degree seeking student.” And we did.

This class eventually led to a Bachelor Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in English/Business and I hope to begin my graduate work toward a MFA in Creative Writing soon (if I can find a paper based one). This is extraordinary for a man who hated English and writing. I have fallen in love with a skill that has enabled me to rehabilitate myself in ways that would have been impossible otherwise. Writing has taught me to think about my actions, how they affect others, and how to imagine a world where my actions can help people.

I’ve found this Prison Higher Education is difficult at times. The system tries to force me back into those old boxes I’ve escaped. No matter how difficult it can be I’ve learned in each class and each professor taught me, no matter my past decisions, I am worth teaching.

I hope to go on learning for many years to come. I know now that all learning isn’t always done in a classroom. I see now how my early childhood experience taught me, my prison sentence has taught me, and that sometimes we must acknowledge these as lessons before we can learn from them. I hope to share my education with others, especially those in prison, to show them
that they too are worth the second chance at learning and another chance at life.