On September 27th, 2021, I visited a student at the jail who recently graduated from Power & Promise. This young man was an outstanding student, and when he graduated, we talked about ways to share some of his perspectives with others. So I sat down with him and did a mini-interview.
Brandon: Let’s start out with you sharing some positive aspects of you.
STUDENT: Well, I’d have to say my smile is my number one feature. People tell me that my smile lights up the room and makes people feel happy.
Brandon: That’s awesome. Have you always been in a space where you smiled?
STUDENT: No. There were a lot of times when I was sad or angry; however, I’ve realized that there’s so much more to life to be grateful for. I have spent way too much time caring about what people thought of me. I am finally at a place where I am focusing on myself and learning to love myself.
Brandon: Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s important that you are making that shift to focus on yourself and being intentional on being a system of support for yourself. What other positive aspects would you like people to know about you?
STUDENT: I’m funny. I’m not scared to just be myself. I like to think I’m authentic, unique, and am learning to find value in that. I love me and I want other people to see the “me” that I love. You know, I have always known what that felt like. Many times, it felt like people only loved me if they got something out of it.
Brandon: Would you say you’re trying to heal the wounds of the past while focusing on what your present and future look like?
STUDENT: Absolutely. I am slowly learning what happiness feels like and understanding that I have overcame many challenges and obstacles in my life. For so long, it felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was stressed and making choices that weren’t healthy, eventually going down this path of destruction. My focus was material things: money, buying love and happiness, and valuing clout from other…rather than myself.
Brandon: Was it worth it?
STUDENT: Absolutely not; however, I have learned a lot from all of these experiences.
Brandon: What are the biggest misconceptions about you?
STUDENT: The first thing is that I’m a threat or that I’m dangerous. The thing is, people are judging me and making assumptions but they have never taken the time to get to know me. Most people don’t want to get to know me.
Brandon: How does that make you feel?
STUDENT: You know, I try not to let it bother me because I know who I am, but I still have feelings. There’s more to me that what people see or what they have heard. That’s why I’m thankful for you and the fact that you don’t judge me. You show me love and you’ve made me feel like I’m a leader.
Brandon: First…you are a leader. And, I think you’re amazing. I think that many times the world wants to summarize people’s humanity in one situation and never take the time to get to know that individual. That’s not fair. Imagine if we judged everyone by their worse decision? That type of negativity doesn’t allow for grace, understanding, or redemption. We can’t operate like that.
STUDENT: Exactly. I understand that my reputation isn’t necessarily a positive one, but I’m more than that.
Brandon: What are some of your goals that you’re working on now?
STUDENT: The most important one is becoming a better me. I’m pushing myself to make healthier decisions, including having a healthy body and mind. I’m reading a lot and I’m trying to treat my body with respect, eating healthier…as much as possible. I’m also doing more for my leadership. I just graduated from Power & Promise and I’m doing my school classes. I really like math and the teacher let’s me help some of the other students.
Brandon: That’s amazing! So, you’re like a mentor?
STUDENT: Yes. I like helping other people. I like making people smile. I love bringing happiness to others.
Brandon: Tell me what you’ve learned about yourself since you’ve been in the Jail.
STUDENT: I have had time to really reflect and think about who I am. It’s been a humbling process. It’s helped me realize I have a purpose and that I can still help other people. In here, a lot of people come to me with their emotions, and I sit with them to help them get through it. I’m also learning a lot about loyalty and seeing who has stayed by my side through the hard times.
Brandon: Has this taught you some hard life lessons?
STUDENT: Absolutely. Listen, I love everyone, and I just want people to see me for me. But some weren’t able to do that and are no longer a part of my life.
Brandon: How does that make you feel?
STUDENT: It’s been hard, but it’s teaching me to focus more on strengthening the love I have for myself and not be depending on the love from others. Plus, I still have my mother. She’s my best friend and has stayed by myself through it all.
Brandon: Anything else that you have learned or that you are working on?
STUDENT: I’m focusing on three things: Joy, Confidence, and Love.
Brandon: If you were being interviewed on the news and had to tell the world one thing, what would it be?
STUDENT: I would tell anyone going through a struggle that ‘you are greater than this!”
Brandon: That’s amazing and I’m here for it! Okay, so the last thing I want you to do is to write yourself a letter, encouraging yourself and finding a way to start healing from your past.
Letter to Self
“Aye bro. I know you have been through a lot and have also carried a lot of weight on your back. And I know times have been hard to where you felt like giving up. But better days will come. Keep pushing big dawg, you were made for this. If I believe in you, that’s all you need. Keep smiling and being yourself. Can’t nobody change you. Haters gonna hate. But, as long as I’m here, I support you. I got your back like nobody ever will. Never stop smiling. Everything is in God’s hands, so I hope the best for you, my best friend. One day, we’ll meet again.” -STUDENT
Interview conducted by Brandon Randall, VOICES Director of Engagement