As the music of Pomp and Circumstance begin, the doors in the back of the chapel open, and there begins a slow march of men in caps and gowns. Men only. And, not the youthful unlined faces we usually see at graduation time. These are the faces of men who have experienced difficulty in this world, men who have, after regretful choices, made the right choice, the choice to go, while serving time, for a college degree. These graduates, filing past the assembled guests many of whom were beaming family members, are the men of California’s San Quentin Prison who are about to receive their college degrees through the Prison University Project.
It is no small task to make the transition from a prison life of micro-monitoring and supervision to freedom in a larger world. One of the graduates is David Cowan who is no stranger to academic success, describes himself a workaholic, a quality that served him well while he was serving time at San Quentin prison. He received his college degree through the Prison University Project, the curriculum designed to bring out the best in the students who are fortunate enough to be enrolled in this program. He now, thanks to what he knows first hand, works as administrative assistant of the Prison University Project and the director of re-integration through which he helps others make the adjustment to life outside prison.
In ten, fifteen, twenty or more years away, it is a very different world a newly released prisoner enters, so it is no surprise that, on release, a man needs to re-learn skills like driving, job-searching and banking. Beyond that, employment and relationships are things we may take for granted, but granted they are not for any of us. For ex-prisoners, finding jobs, friendship and maybe romance will most likely come harder. How to go about all this, even armed with a degree, can be daunting, but David is here to guide.
To listen to him talk about his own life and the internal changes he made while incarcerated is to witness victory. To listen to him talk about taking his life back into his own hands, taking responsibility is to know what real learning is about. To hear him describe his devoted family and the lengths they went to in support of him is a tribute to the ultimate power of love. This is the story of a man whose road has, with his own intelligence and determination at work as well as help and guidance of others, taken him from incarceration to leadership.
His love letter? There are so many options for him to express not only his gratitude but to personally and accurately record his part in history. Like so much in life, it all comes down to personal choice and taking the time to do it.
From me to you with love in the air,
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