For years, in California, low-risk prison inmates have worked with high school students to prepare for the outside world. This year, the inmates bonded with one student so well that they saved up and paid for his tuition!
Exercises In Empathy
Years ago, teachers Mia Mirassou and Jim Micheletti started a book club in the Soledad State Prison called “Exercises In Empathy.” The main goal? For inmates to spend time with the youth and show them that people in prison are the same as them. “They go in thinking monster … and they come out thinking a man. A human being … they’ve done bad things, but there are no throwaway people here,” Micheletti said.
Meanwhile, Exercises In Empathy also helped prepare the inmates for the outside world. In fact, as former inmate Jason Bryant said that, unlike usual book clubs, this had a much stronger focus on debate and education. “It was incredibly refreshing to have young men come into a space with us and see us as what we are, which is people,” he added. Bryant went into prison in 1999, at the age of just 20, due to a robbery that went wrong. 26 years later, he’s out and thankful for the incredible chance that Exercises In Empathy gave him. Now, the inmates have found a way to give back to the students who have brought them so much.
Inspired By A Book
It was actually Bryant who came up with the idea to help a student, after reading Ernest Gordon’s Miracle On The River Kwai. The heroism displayed in the novel, incredibly, pushed many inmates to put their salary towards a scholarship fund. For those not in the know, inmates earn just 8 cents an hour for their jobs, and can only save up to $100 a month.
Despite the low salary, almost 800 inmates decided to give up their paychecks for three years – adding up to $32,000! Now, one student can thank 800 people for making furniture, cleaning, and working as a clerk. “Incarcerated people were so drawn to, … the idea of going a mile deep in a young man’s life, that they were giving up their month’s pay to contribute,” Bryant said. Although they had no idea who to grant with the sum yet, Micheletti and Mirassou knew to chose young Sy Green.
Giving Back To His Saviors
Why Sy Green? Well, despite a hard life, Green continues to give back. His father suffers from a heart condition, while his mother is blind. Sadly, that meant no money for tuition. “That was a financial burden, with all the medical bills and stuff,” Green said. So, Micheletti and Mirassou knew that the money needed to go to the young man who still volunteered, regardless of what happened in his life.
“I was mind-blown. … And then immediately, I was just grateful,” Green said after receiving the money. “They put all this effort and all this work into me. So I have to honor that and carry that legacy on.” Now, the young man can afford to go to college!
Meanwhile, thanks to Green and the book club, Bryant is now out of prison and teaching similar students at the CROP nonprofit as the Director of Restorative Programs. “I don’t know about redemption. … I can say this, I know that those of us who have truly transformed our lives are committed to adding value in any way that we possibly can,” Bryant said.