Nothing I tried to do would have convinced reality to compromise its nature inside that courtroom. The room was completely wood-grained and full of people in suits, just like in the movies. Everyone seemed to be here to witness my final outcome; they watched me be sentenced to serve 30 years. I sat in my cell planning out more time than I could count with my hands. It was the only thing I could do to feel any kind of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.
I knew I had to do something to stay positive and work on myself. Being a first-generation Latino-American, I wanted to make my mother proud despite the circumstances. So what is in my control that I can change? Education! I inquired about the G.E.D program in the Prison facility I was in and signed up. I was rejected because I had too much time.
According to the Deputy Warden of Care and Treatment, in her own words “You have too much time to enroll in the program, come back when you’re closer to going home.”
You have no idea how upset this made me! I battled the decision, writing grievance form after grievance form. I spoke to the regional directors and higher up personnel over the Department of Corrections, and finally I was granted my request. Victory!
I was placed in the G.E.D program begrudgingly by the staff, as if I had just done something rebellious or gotten away with a crime. What’s sad about all of this is the staff will never admit they were wrong.
G.E.D classes started at six am Monday-Thursday, and I was expected to be there by five-thirty am or (as the officer explained) I would be sent to The Hole (Isolation). Sounds like a threat to me, but hey, I got what I wanted.
After a couple months of dedicated studying I felt I was ready. Test day was so overwhelming. Apart from lack of sleep and anxiety, the only thing in my mind was that I had to pass this test!
We began testing at six am and finished every subject at around lunch time. I was nervous and exhausted but I knew I had done my best. 30 students tested and 12 passed! The results took a whole dreadful week to come. And then—salutatorian, baby! I didn’t even know what that meant but I was so happy! I passed! I couldn’t wait to tell my mom.
As the teacher prepared the graduates for the big day, she asked me if I would do a short speech for graduation. Normally I would have declined because I am more of an introvert, but when she explained to me that the Deputy Warden of Care and Treatment would be attending the Graduation ceremony, I changed my mind and agreed with a grin. This was my opportunity to express how I felt without getting in trouble! Bet!
“Opposition” was the title of my speech. Truth is, I was driven by opposition. Nervousness is all I felt as I walked towards the podium on graduation day but after the first few words I gained confidence.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations graduates! Truth be told, I cannot credit this success on anything more than opposition. Opposition is what has allowed me to get to this point. It has pushed me to do my best. To dig down deep and find the courage to shine in success. Opposition is a sign that things are possible but something or someone does not want you to tap into this, much less achieve it. Never allow opposition to put out your fire. I am proud of each student graduating today, because you tapped into the energy that says ‘you got this.’ If there is one thing I want you to remember is this: ‘In life, take Opposition and see it as Opportunity and shine like never before.’ Thank you.”
Did I mention that I became the teacher’s aide for years after this?
What’s next? Glad you asked. I enrolled in French and ASL (American Sign Language) courses. I took on the feat of acquiring my Associates degree in biblical studies. I have always been a man of faith. I explored many languages such as Greek and Hebrew, no piece of cake.
My hunger for education was only growing stronger. It was like an awakening from a mental slumber. The feeling was equal to someone all of a sudden realizing they had the ability to open their eyes and see after living their whole life blind.
At times I felt discouraged, but I never gave up—I wanted my mother to be proud of me. Even though she always says she is, I’ve always felt that I let her down with all this prison time I got. Regardless of it all, my mother has always encouraged me, she always told me that I can still turn this situation into a success story. She is definitely my strength and example. Leaving her home country of Honduras at a young age of 27 and raising 4 boys as a single mother. Graduating as a nurse, being the role model for her kids that all things are possible. I believe that!
Six years into my sentence I was transferred to the Metro Reentry facility and was offered to take the humanities course taught by Common Good Atlanta. I had to sign up! This is what I need, to be challenged mentally. To my surprise I learned so much in the little time that I was there, but was transferred before I finished the course. It is considered “Population redistribution,” basically: Opposition! I was so upset for a long time.
But guess what? I did not give up. I became a teacher’s aide in the next camp. To my surprise, five years later, I was sent to Atlanta transitional Center and had the opportunity to finish the course I once started at Metro Reentry. Victory!
Education is definitely a blessing and I will never take any of it for granted. I am grateful for the mindset my mother instilled in me to use opposition as fuel for me to press forward with my goals in life. The Struggle is real but the Strength is even greater!