College Professor and Students Visit Me at Taft Camp

By · Thursday, December 13th, 2007

After more than 20 years of continuous confinement, every opportunity to interact with or contribute to society comes as an incredibly welcome treat. Yesterday, I had such a privilege, and I will savor the memory for many years to come. These experiences remind me that I will not live as a prisoner forever and that my return to society is coming closer.

The warden of Taft Camp made this vision possible by authorizing me to speak with Dr. Sam Torres and a group of his students from California State University in Long Beach. Although Dr. Torres and I have been building a friendship through four years of correspondence, yesterday was our first opportunity to meet. He has tried to visit me in previous facilities, but institutional rules prohibited our visit because Dr. Torres and I do not have a friendship that precedes my imprisonment. The warden at Taft, however, used his discretion to allow Dr. Torres and his students to tour Taft’s prison, and authorized 45 minutes for me to speak with the group.

The university students are pursuing degrees in criminal justice and many are considering careers in law enforcement. Since Dr. Torres assigns my book Inside as part of their learning curriculum, the students were somewhat familiar with my life and my work. I enjoyed the privilege of contributing to their education and of helping them understand confinement from a long-term prisoner’s perspective. Those students will eventually assume leadership roles in our criminal justice system, so I was especially grateful to listen and interact with them. Meeting Dr. Torres, too, was certainly an early holiday gift.

For the 45 minutes that I was speaking with the group, I felt totally free, as if I were a citizen speaking on a university campus. The students asked intelligent questions about the challenges I’ve had in working through this quarter century of imprisonment. My hopes are that I can build a career upon my release by speaking with such groups about the struggles of imprisonment, overcoming adversity, and steps we all can take to improve our nation’s correctional system. The meeting I had yesterday brought insight into how I can prepare further for such a career.

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