LCC's 2022 Transforming Lives Award winner
“When I was in prison, I reluctantly attended a required “job skills” course that was focused on the foundations of job readiness. While I now can appreciate the programming offered to me, I was less than ecstatic in the moment. On the second day of class, the instructor brought in a list of employers known to hire people with criminal records, which was meant to be encouraging, but looking at that list I was demoralized. I felt trapped with no room to grow. Not knowing that this would be the catalyst to redirect my path, I begrudgingly asked, “how is this supposed to change my life?” In response, the instructor sat down and started exploring the possibilities with me.
At that time, I didn’t believe school was a real option for me as I didn’t think I could fit in or succeed, but she was the first of many who saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. She helped me fill out my FAFSA and school application to turn in upon release. This was the beginning of the new support system that formed around me along my academic journey. I released on June 16, 2015 and started at Lower Columbia College that fall.
After my first two quarters, I was referred to the TRIO Student Support Services program where I sat down with an advisor and opened up about my past for the first time since I released. I remember recounting the trauma and decisions that preceded my prison stay, yet she was writing things like “resilient, resourceful, determined.” I didn’t understand how she picked those traits out of the ugly truth I was sharing. This was the first glimpse I got of myself that wasn’t riddled with shame. I found TRIO to be my home. They were not only fully accepting of who I was and where I’d been, but celebrated each tiny win with me. Slowly, they helped me shed some of the stigma I was carrying around and trade it for bits of confidence.
I remember thinking that the world of academia wasn’t going to be a welcoming place for people like me, but I was wrong. Education transformed my life. It helped me build a foundation for a future I never could have dreamed of. I graduated with highest honors from LCC a few years post-release and went on to graduate summa cum laude from WSU-V with a Bachelor’s in Public Affairs and a concentration in Justice. I worked for the TRIO program, giving back the support they gave me, the WA State House of Representatives where I fell in love with public policy, and currently work for the Statewide Reentry Council where I use my story to effect reentry legislation.
Today, I get to think about my life with endless possibilities. I plan to continue engaging in criminal legal reform at the state and federal level and sharing my story to shed light on the humanity behind these policy issues. In all aspects, representation matters, so the voices of those most impacted should be centered in this work. “Those closest to the problem are often closest to the solution but farthest from the resources.” The end goal is a more just society; I am just contributing where I can.
If anyone is hesitant about their ability to attend a community or technical college, push that doubt away. There is always a place for you with someone to meet you where you’re at and cheer you on as you succeed. Education can and will change your life.”