I loved books as a little girl. When others were playing, I was reading. I would get lost in stories and imagine the places I’d go when I grew up. I enjoyed learning new things and fell in love with the idea of going to college like the girls on TV. Except, they were different. I was different. As much as I loved school, the reality of my life and circumstances around me made it impossible to focus on school work. Plus, I didn’t know anyone who had been to college which made it seem completely out of reach. Even as I dropped out of my continuation high school and faced never-ending struggles as a teenage mom while experiencing trauma and setbacks, I never stopped reading. Reading was my escape.
It became my escape once again when I found myself locked up and feeling broken. While incarcerated, I passed my GED and it changed my perception of my ability to succeed in education. Some might have seen that as a small feat, but to me, it proved something — a path that didn’t seem available to me before, was possible. After getting my GED, I completed my AA degree while incarcerated.
Then, I heard of a program at U.C. Berkeley called Underground Scholars that helps students impacted by incarceration transfer to a UC. That was my shot. I sat with my transfer coordinator for hours as he looked over my essays and pushed me to highlight more of myself. I got in. The program allowed me to see others who, like myself, had followed extremely non-traditional paths to higher education. I always knew I was smart and capable from the time I picked up a book. But it took this program to see that a fancy U.C. education isn’t just for “other” people. Now I’m a mentor to others seeking similar paths.
I see so much of myself in the young women and girls with heavy spirits who think they’re damaged beyond repair. I think it’s so important for them to see that they can be whoever they want to be — that they can change the things they do without changing who they are. I hope my journey proves that.