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By AJ Chalom
Dave was born and raised in Pittsburgh in a stable household. He went to private school, joined the air force. During that time, Dave reconnected with a girlfriend who had a history of violence, and the relationship continued against his family’s advice. A cycle of violence perpetuated itself, and someone Dave loved deeply was being threatened. Dave withdrew and deteriorated, and then he took another person’s life. He was sentenced to 25 years to life. Dave served a total of 22 years, 4 months, and 12 days in prison for his actions.
His dad said, “You are always going to make mistakes—just don’t make mistakes you can’t recover from. You may have done that, but whether you recover depends on what you do from here on out.” Dave took from this a revolutionary idea that maybe he could recover from this. He wanted to recover and regain who he was. He had to make a decision to not let the system change him.
Dave had to learn to live with himself. For years after being incarcerated, he wouldn’t look at himself in the mirror. But he finally faced himself, and that was a first step. He started taking advantage of any program within the system that he could benefit from.
Dave became aware of Prison University Project (PUP) accidently; he was mistakenly sent to San Quentin in a transfer in 2002, instead of back to his previous prison. One of the first things he saw was a list on the wall to sign up for college. He did this immediately. Once his prison counselor noticed Dave wasn’t supposed to be there, they talked. His counselor asked what he wanted to do. His response: “Well, I am in college now, so I would rather stay.”
I spoke with Dave about his experiences with PUP.
I asked Dave what his educational goals were before he was in prison and what educational goals he met in PUP’s program. He said that before he was incarcerated, his educational goals were what he needed to learn to keep a job. His goals were simply vocational skills, leading to his decision to join the air force.
When he joined PUP, his education goals changed. He knew the jobs that would be available to him as a prisoner would be limited, so he had to academically upgrade. Furthermore, going to classes exposed him to readings and topics that he would not usually be exposed to. He realized he could only begin to pay his debt to society by working for the betterment of society.
Dave knew he needed to learn whatever he could to learn to be productive and make a real change to society. He earned an associate degree through PUP. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University in public policy, political science, or criminal justice. Dave is also the administrative assistant for Prison University Project.
Dave concludes, “It is important for us to remember that we are all much more than the worst thing that we have ever done.”