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The Voice of Imprisoned Students

Are you someone who wonders about the stories of our students? When you spend so much time doing things that essentially benefit people in prison it is only natural to wonder why they ended up there. Some of our students share their stories, but given the distance between us and them, and since there is an “us” and “them,” there are many stories we don’t know.

Both critics who oppose helping incarcerated people at all and people who we converse with about College Guild commonly ask questions such as: “Do you know what crimes your students committed?” or “Don’t some of them rightfully belong in prison, why do you want to help them?” Prisoners carry a stereotype that often dehumanizes and defines them. The problem with stereotypes is that they are externally defined, objectifying, and drown out the individual stories of our students.

Working with prisoners feels like working with people in a different world, especially since we don’t see our students. CG courses are sent through the mail and our students have names, but not faces, making it hard to show the ways our work actually affects people. Throughout the past few months of working with CG, I’ve discovered that members of staff always seem to have letters or quotes from students that I wish everyone on the outside could see and hear more of. This thank you letter from a student, Ray, is one:

Hello. My name is Ray and I am a College Guild student. I’m writing to thank you for your generous donation that makes it possible for College Guild to help people like myself. I would like to tell you a little bit of myself and just how College Guild helped me. I was arrested at 17 years old and have been imprisoned for 28 years this December.

When I was placed in Pelican Bay State Prison at 18 years of age, I quit on life because I thought it quit on me. I was a bad person who managed somehow to become worse. I spent the next 22 years being one of the worst inmates in the California prison system. I spent 17 years in the HSU (security housing unit) where inmates are segregated for the safety of all. Ironically it was in that setting that I was introduced to College Guild, which irrevocably changed my path. The glimpse into the outside world and the un-confining feeling that education brought, coupled with the care and compassion of complete strangers who were willing not only to share this but also their own time, was and is awe-inspiring!

I have gone on with the learning process. I am now a model inmate; the vice chairman of my AA group; enrolled in community college; a member of Criminals and Gangmembers Anonymous; and much more. I owe this to a free course that College Guild offered to a struggling person. Yet above all, I learned the value of being of service to others.

This is what your donation means, thank you!

Sincerely, Ray

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