November 20, 2016
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
Letter #462: New Students at Bakersfield College!
Earlier this month, voters in California cast their ballots in favor of a measure that would grant prison officials in our state the authority to make sweeping reforms. Known as Prop 57, this initiative gives more prisoners access to educational credits, known as “milestones,” and it is hoped that Prop 57 will also reduce lengthy sentences by increasing the potential to earn good-behavior credits.
None of the possible changes is set in stone yet, so rumors abound and irrational hopefulness is at an all-time fanatical level. I won’t put any stock in any of the ideas floating around until I see them printed in black and white on official paperwork. My time is in the Lord’s hands, and I know He is capable of letting me out of prison in His timing without me needing to talk to Him about it.
Meanwhile, at our small facility, the warden has worked hard to expand educational classes and vocational programs with the expressed intent to better prepare the inmate population for release into the community. With curriculum designed to spur positive thinking, curb negative cycles, and teach right behaviors, many guys who attend these classes have reported a dramatic change in how they view the future and their own responsibilities in it. I’ve heard dozens of their testimonies at the 20-plus graduations I’ve attended as Music Event Coordinator this past year, a moving tribute to how information and caring instruction can make a difference.
One of the warden’s key initiatives coming up is the introduction of a partnership between our prison and nearby Bakersfield College, in which they will make us one of their satellite campus locations. Prior to many details being given about how it would all work, I determined to at least express an interest in it to see what it is and how it might benefit me. I have a desire to see programs established here that will help prepare men for jobs, family life, and right living, so this college thing seemed like something I should support if at all possible.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended an informative meeting whose stated purpose was that of giving anyone who was interested all pertinent information related to this prison-college partnership. Somewhere around 60 inmates attended, not even 10% of the entire population.
The warden and a couple of staff members from the college came to give us details and answer questions. A very energetic lady from Bakersfield College hopefully and convincingly presented a plan by which inmates at our facility could take classes that eventually could lead to us earning Associate of Arts (AA) degrees in communication.
The way it looks now is that the college will begin with one class this next semester, January through May, and then possibly expand to two classes per semester and eventually three. The estimated time of completion for Bakersfield College’s AA degree is three years, and since many of us have well over that amount of time left on our sentences, earning the degree is quite doable.
While not interested in beginning another AA degree myself (I have nearly completed one from San Jose City College, earned in my teen years, and the one from Harvest Bible University, earned in prison), I could possibly use the classes to finish my first degree. In any case, I was interested enough to fill out the form provided and then waited to be called in for orientation and testing. Within a few days, I was notified that I qualified to take the college’s entrance exam, something I hadn’t done in 28 years.
Now, I happen to love taking tests, and I have certain pressures and challenges I add upon myself, just to make the test-taking more … interesting. With most tests, the highest score possible is of course my goal, but I also like to finish before anyone else in the room, no matter the size of the room. (My Real Estate exam, with more than 500 exam-takers, was toughest. I was one of the first few participants to complete the test.)
If it is a timed test, as most are, I have a goal to finish in half the time allotted. For the first four test sections, I finished first (among the 35 potential students) and in half the time allotted to take each section.
I figured the last test section, Math, would present a bit more of a challenge, and it did, requiring nearly the entire time block allotted. I missed the simplicity of the math portion of San Jose City College’s entrance exam, in which the most difficult problem back then was as follows: “What is 1/7 + 2/7?” One-seventh plus two sevenths? Yep, and I had at least a one-in-four chance of getting it right, thanks to it being a “multiple choice” question. Good thing I paid attention in fourth grade, I guess.
Well, I’m in. My first class will be starting in January 2017 and is a class I took at age 15: English 1A. My 20 classmates and I get this (and all future classes) for free, thanks to grant money and new state programs. Additionally, the warden herself bought each of us a dictionary and writing notebook and plastic folder from her own pocket, thus bypassing additional red tape and hassle, so that we’d have the supplies we needed in order to be successful.
I’m not certain about whatever lies ahead, but I’m just trying to be faithful with the opportunities presented to me. I trust that God will use every moment of my prison journey to glorify Himself as He builds my character. I look forward to this latest challenge!