The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word education as: “The action or process of educating or being educated, a field of study dealing with methods of teaching and learning.” My lack of education has lead me to this 8′ X 9′ cell that I am now forced to call home.
Scholastics were not embraced by me in my youth. The school of hard knocks was my institution for teaching and learning. Pupils in attendance gained the knowledge of every phase of robbery, drug distribution, and every other crime imaginable.
As I sit in my prison cell, I sometimes flash back to my earlier years and wonder what went wrong. My mother was a caring and willing woman who fed and clothed me to the best of her ability. She was a black single parent who could not read. However, she pushed and encouraged me to be a good student.
I remember having to read the newspaper and other documents to my mother. I was just eight years old and was already writing checks for the household bills, due to her illiteracy. This continued up until I was sixteen. That’s when she kicked me out of her house for dropping out of school and doing other things she didn’t agree with or even understand.
My mother was a Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States in 1982. She worked three jobs and saved for years to bring me to this country. I came to America at the age of six. I find it to be somewhat ironic that I was issued a scholastic visa to enter this country as a student.
I am currently serving an eight year sentence for robbery in the second degree. I have been incarcerated for four years. In that time I’ve obtained my GED. I have also enrolled in a few college correspondence courses.
Due to the economic downturn, I could not continue taking my college courses. My loved ones on the outside are barely getting by. Although they are willing to help support my efforts, I can’t accept their financial support. I stopped until I can pay for my own education on my own. It would be unfair of me to burden them with something that was given to me freely on the outside, but I foolishly rejected it.
I used to believe I was a victim of the public school system. I blamed its overcrowded classrooms, over-worked and under-trained teachers, and outdated books for my lack of love for scholastics. The truth is I’m the only one to blame for that and my current situation.
Politicians and others like them need to stop pointing the finger at educators. A hard look needs to be taken at the parents, but most of all, the students. Teachers need the peace of mind to perform the task of educating. Knowledge is power, but the power has to be recognized before it is wanted or obtained
Even in the correctional system, the above statement is proven to be true. Inmates are provided with a range of programs which include: various vocational training programs, GED classes, and some facilities even provide free college courses. These are tools one can use to prepare for the hard task of re-entering a competitive and recession-laden free society. However, a large number of inmates refuse to take part in these programs.
Prison facilities are governed by the Department of Corrections. However, correction or change of ideas and behavior starts from within the individual. It is their task to identify the cause or root of their incarceration. Be it the combination of a lack of education, drug abuse, or the lack of understanding that money can be earned by legal means if one educates him-or herself in a field or skill.
I have identified that a lack of education is the seed that has bared the bitter fruit that I must eat for the next four years. I have read that time lost is never found again. That being said, I plan to use my time in prison to rebuild myself. We now live in a global economy and one has to stay current. That means using all the programs that are provided for me while I’m incarcerated.
My mother and I have been using each other as tools of motivation. A year after I obtained my GED in prison, my mother went back to school at the age of 57. After years of being illiterate, she is now able to write articulately. This past year, she obtained her GED and is now taking senior citizen college courses.
It’s my sincere hope that my story can show others that it doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, male or female, black or white, in prison or out, that life is what you make of it. In my mind, the solution to the criminal element is education. I know that my own education has changed the very substance of my being. It’s my hope that it can do the same thing for you, too.
Wensley Roberts is incarcerated at Coxsackie Correctional Facility, where he volunteers as a prison hospice worker.