Why I Chose to Go to Prison

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Why do you have a whistle on your key-chain?”, said the random stranger at Starbucks.

“For self-defense in case I’m shanked in prison”, I replied while sipping my latte.

Previously, I may have mentioned that I volunteered with inmates at a correctional facility for academic advising and tutoring. As I was a premed at the time, this may come as a surprise as it did to the inmates I served. They had a hard time wrapping their minds around why “they” were included in my schedule at that time: I was also working as a tutor (premed stuff) and a low income tutor for free (this was supposed to be paid actually haha) K-8th grade, taught for various elementary school science enrichment camps, and volunteered a few hours a week teaching science/math to long term inpatients in pediatric oncology — I took a gap year after graduation and the MCAT, so I had a lot of time to see my community. After explaining my background to them, I even noted the strangeness of how it all sounded compared to my cohort who were usually there interest in working within the corrections system.

As a tutor, I usually the best way to start a ¬†tutoring session is to give some background about ourselves, including my own experiences and why I’m tutoring at all — I suppose people enjoy me sharing my vulnerabilities when they too may feel vulnerable. So, I did the same thing with the inmates, I told them about when I almost gave up on school completely.

You see, I was held on suspicion of armed robbery for a bank that I’ve never: seen, been to, or even knew of its existence. You’re probably wondering how this went down. Well, this happened many years ago when I was still at a community college, so right after high school. I had a college fling, and I was on a date at the time. So, as dates do require money, I decided to withdraw additional petty cash. I left my date in the car, leaving my date and my car out of sight by about 200 meters. I’m not even remotely close to the bank yet, and a squad car pulls into the drive way and rushes to cut me off. And then came the repeated questions of why was I in the area, what was I doing, what was my major, who was I with. Every 5-minutes one officer would ask me the same battery of questions, no less an attempt to catch me in a lie. However, I was simply on a date, so it was easy I just told the truth. That went on for about 45-minutes, as I stood at the cop car with my pockets turned inside out, hands on the dash, all while curious passers by stare and are likely proud one less ‘criminal’ is on the streets. Things did get a tad more serious when they decided to detain me, in the back of the police car. Until that time, I had never been in the back of a police car — it’s very uncomfortable.

So, finally, I asked my captors, “So, why exactly am I here?”.

To that they replied, “There was an armed robbery at X bank, in Y city, and you match the description”.

“Well, what’s the description”, I responded, chuckling at my fate all the while.

To that they replied, “Black male, blue jeans and a white or grey t-shirt”.

“Awesome”, was the only thing I could then say.

Well, I knew I was pretty f*****d at that point haha. Fortunately, I was eventually released two hours later, but not before being another police officer, not knowing that I was going to be released soon, yelled “Go get some chicken boy!”. That was my first time being called “boy”, despite the fact that I was pretty sure I was a man. Prior to this experience, I was an honor roll student in high school and placed in the top 5% in my HS class in testing, I had even won a scholarship I was holding onto. But after, I almost dropped out of school completely and started working. I suppose I was just disenchanted with society, where I could play by the rules and still be treated like I did something wrong. At the same time, I started to wonder how many other people got fed up, and fell into a bad cycle themselves.

My second brush with the law was when I was the victim. I was teaching my friend how to drive stick in a parking lot at night, some drunkard through a beer bottle through my driver window hitting me square in the face. Then he proceeded to punch me in the face while I was still strapped into my seat belt from the broken window. In his drunken tirade he was screaming about local cars being stolen, and I suppose he figured it was me? He then ran off, it happened so fast even my friend who was now covered in my blood had no time to react. We called the police, told them what happened and they called the ambulance because I had blood bubbling and frothing from a hole in my cheek. During my questioning, the police dismissed my report of what happened. Instead, they argued that I was likely in a gang and didn’t want to share the details of the brawl. I went to the ER, they stitched up my face and told me I’d best call off work/school because my face is going to well like a bowling ball — it did. I still have a scar that people confuse for a dimple now, good job doctors!

Yes, first I rob banks without showing up to them, and I’m also unwittingly in a gang. This was another blow to my outlook on life.

When I was still in elementary school my mother told me that it was very important that I comply with the police, and it didn’t really matter if I did anything wrong or not because the end result was never good for us. It pains me to say that she was right. Though, I never told my mom this story, I don’t think she’d take it well. The only reason I was released that day was because my date didn’t match the getaway driver’s description. If not by chance, I might of been in prison or at least in court to fight something I had never done. So, convicted or not, guilty or not. I just want to see a person, and I wanted to learn how to see people and not their pasts; therefore the prison experience with the inmates was a great time for me. Besides, whether or not you like it, those people will eventually be released back to your community. Thus, we can either help to rehabilitate them or lot them rot in crime college, I chose the former.

When I tell them my story, they usually reciprocate with their own stories about when they were teens. Suddenly, you have a room of buff tattooed men in different gangs/races, who usually don’t speak to each other, having a heart to heart about their feelings. The trick was, as it was for me, to turn those negative feelings into positive action and break the mold others set for you.





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