The Journey from Student Inside, to Remote Instructor Outside.
Few people get to work a job they both love and that allows them to give back to a community to which they once belonged. I am fortunate to be one of those people. Each day I get to interact with incarcerated students in The Last Mile Web Development Program, seeing their lives and perspectives change before my eyes. I see them work hard to grasp difficult concepts, because they know how valuable those skills will be upon their return to society. I see them grow and change, even within an otherwise bleak environment. I am grateful I get to share in that experience.
It was the same for me after twenty-four years of incarceration. I was once a TLM student, too, looking up to the instructors on the call each week. Most of them had been previously incarcerated. I saw them as examples of what I could become. I looked beyond the lessons they were delivering and saw a life I had once thought impossible to obtain. I realized that, if they could do it, then so could I. It fueled my hope and ambition of being something other than just another “ex-con” burdening society. I knew early on that I wanted to give back in a similar way.
With my own perspective in mind, I am driven to be an example for the students I serve. They all know I was once in the same situation as them; preparing to face the monumental task of reentry. But they also know I made it out and that I’m spending my time helping them learn coding and web development skills, so they too are equipped to find meaningful employment once released. Because of my experience, our student-teacher relationship has more depth and mutual understanding. I have had students that are more apt to both listen and ask for advice. They can see the possibilities in my example, just as I once did in the example of my remote instructructors.
What many may find surprising, is that the students help me succeed as well. Because I want to continue to be a positive example for them, I am driven to be successful at everything I do in life, whether that’s professional development or simply excelling at hobbies. This connection to my former life reminds me to stay humble and appreciate what I have in my life. Most importantly, leading by example helps keep me pushing forward, even when life gets difficult and I think I can’t take another step. I want our program participants to see what’s possible with determination and discipline. While reentry is different for everyone, a common thread amongst everyone’s journeys is that reentry is hard work. However, the more of us that succeed, the more those coming home can witness the path to success.
Something that genuinely sets TLM apart from other programs, where instructors rarely interact with their students after graduation, is our post-release relationships. The Last Mile doesn’t stop supporting its students once they graduate and come home. Rather, we continue to stay invested and interested in their lives as returned citizens. I have had many former students reach out to me on social media or TLM’s Slack channel, asking for advice or wanting to connect with someone familiar. I’m always happy to maintain that connection and be a support in our larger network of returned citizens. Just as I strive to be an example to those still in prison, I also try to do the same for those who return home. After all, they are a part of my journey and what has made me who I am today.
I cannot predict where my life or career will take me, but I know for certain that I will always continue to give back to those who have made a difference in my life. I actively encourage everyone to adopt the same philosophy. I use my past experiences to create empathy and bonds to help people. We all have experiences we can tap into which allows us to serve as examples for others. I will continue to be an example in all that I do, and I will remember who I’m doing it for. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do so, and I hope to inspire as many people as I can to be success stories of their own!