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by Hollie Garrett

As I sit in this small cell the walls continue to close in on me. I watch small glimpses of the world through my 15-inch TV as thoughts of life lived and time lost flood my mind. How did I end up in this place? What chain of events in my life made incarceration a possibility? I say possibility because there are people in this world who do not go to prison; no matter what they do. Then there are people like me, who know at a young age prison is a possibility. Under what social context does this belief arise in the mind of a child? A child labeled and defined based on race and class. A class of people described as the poor and uneducated. Am I personally responsible for my disinterest in academics; does the scale also tip in the way of those who were set in place to teach, guide, and lead me to self-sufficiency? How did school become my pipeline to prison?

I believe the home situation of all children is the determining factor in their response to school. The home is where all children begin their education. This is where their values, biases, and beliefs form. My living situation wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t ideal for reaching my full potential.

My elementary school experience is what I considered as normal. I could not read until I reached third grade and was enrolled in a special learning class. Regardless of my problem with reading, I really liked school and my teachers. I felt like they cared about me and I enjoyed doing my work to get their praise.

It was in middle school when I began to dislike school. I was being bullied a bit and I didn’t excel in the work. I was early into 7th grade when I was expelled for bringing a knife to school. This would be my first continuation school, but it would not be my last.

It was the summer of my freshman year when my family moved to Sacramento from San Francisco. I started off real enthusiastic about going to a new school and meeting new people. I even joined the school football team. A month into my freshman year, I got injured at football practice. Walking home about a mile on a sprained ankle, I actually watched one of my coaches drive past me while I limped home in pain. No one asked me how bad I was hurt or if I had a ride home. I never went back to football practice after this experience.

While I was injured I began smoking weed. I thought I had the answer to all my problems, but really my problems were just beginning. Along with smoking weed I also began skipping school and living a criminal lifestyle with misfits like myself. For the rest of the semester, I would barely show up for any classes. I would show up just to meet up with the misfits, talk to girls, and leave. Every day I would erase the electronic message left by the school saying that I didn’t show up. No one at the school ever spoke to me about my absences or actually reached out to my parents. It was as if I was invisible with no one to answer to.

I suppose my dad didn’t know what to do, so he sent me to my aunt’s in Bakersfield to complete the school year. Of course, this didn’t change my rebellious behavior. Early into my second semester, I was expelled from high school for fighting. I was sent to a continuation school and quickly expelled again for not participating in volleyball. Nobody tried to understand me. I just remember being constantly pushed away by those who didn’t approve of my behavior. It was at the next continuation program where I hooked up with another band of misfits. It was with this crew that I caught my first robbery. After my quick release from juvenile hall, I was expelled on the last day of school for forging the date on a court subpoena. My reasoning for skipping school made perfect sense to me: I wanted to fight someone at another school. Stepping into my aunt’s home with my head swollen and bruised from fighting, I had no idea my forgery had been discovered. In my bedroom I found all my bags packed and a one-way Greyhound ticket to San Francisco. My aunt was fed up and my behavior had caused her to push me away.

My high school career continued downhill until I finally ended up in the Sacramento County Boys Ranch for gun possession. It was in the boys ranch where I earned my GED. Shortly after my release, my family moved back to San Francisco with my dad. This was the year 2000, and at seventeen years old I felt I was ready for college. My father and I fought about this. He wanted me to get my diploma, but I felt I was much too mature for high school. So, I enrolled in City College of San Francisco.

I had not in any way prepared myself to be successful in college. Work ethic was not a concept I valued. By the end of the first semester, I lost my job, failed all my classes, and became a full-time drug dealer.

In 2010 I was arrested for a cold case pending back to the year 2000. I was innocent of the accused charges, but from seventeen to twenty-six I had built an extensive felony record. So in the district attorney’s and the court’s eyes, I might as well as have been guilty. I went to trial and was convicted and sentenced to twenty years.

I did not set out in life believing education was unimportant. But I was not shown the value of education throughout my school experience. Through my own growth and continued self-awareness, I have found a purpose in educating myself. I have rediscovered what I once knew in elementary school: I am smart and capable. Now in my third semester of college, I am a straight-A student, as opposed to the straight F’s in my freshman year of high school. As far as my individual responsibility, I chose to share the blame. I was allowed to fall through the cracks, like so many others. My behavior was an obvious cry for help. This is not an excuse. What this is is an acknowledgement of my awareness that the people in my life could have led me in a better direction. With this new awareness, it is my responsibility to assure I leave prison a better person, which is why instead of making excuses I have learned to make adjustments.

Republished from “Perspectives from the Cell Block: An Anthology of Prisoner Writings” – edited by Joan Parkin in collaboration with incarcerated people from Mule Creek State Prison.


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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