I have been fortunate to have the greatest job offered within the confines of prison for over ten years now as an education tutor. I’m being completely honest when I say I have enjoyed nearly every single day of it. Case in point is what has happened within the last two weeks.
The past couple weeks of my job have been especially rewarding as I’ve been working one-on-one with a couple individuals on various subjects within the GED curriculum and who were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor by week’s end. One of the young men was scheduled to be released in three weeks when I started working with him and still needed three of the four tests completed. He was a natural jokester who enjoyed deviating from his studies to become the center of attention, which subsequently drew others of task in the meantime. Time and again I’d return his focus back to studying, reminding him of the urgency of the task at hand since he only a short time to get it done. After he passed another test, he seemed to find a self-sustaining ability to focus because with only two weeks left on his sentence and two tests to go, he became focused more than I’d ever seen him.
The day before this young man was released he completed his final two tests and graduated with his GED. He returned to the classroom after having just received his final score from the testing center, grinning from ear to ear! I learned of his success before he spotted me, but he was all too eager to proudly exclaim his achievement to the tutors: “I PASSED! I GOT MY GED!!” I went to shake his hand but he bypassed my extended hand and went in for a hug. I congratulated him, praised his hard work, and encouraged him to continue to work hard when he got out the next morning. I felt it was imperative that he absorb the magnitude of that moment, so I told him, “Listen, you can do anything you set your mind to. Let this be the evidence that shows you when you set goals for yourself and stick to them, good things are bound to happen. Let this just be the beginning of your success, young man, okay?” He listened and agreed.
Another man I’ve been working with has struggled mightily with a learning disability. Math has not been easy for him, not by any stretch. When we felt like we were making progress, he’d test his knowledge and find himself dejected when his score came back and didn’t seem to reflect his ability. To say he was frustrated would be an understatement. I felt his pain because I knew he was trying with everything in him. I did my best to be the support he needed, assuring him that we’d get there as long as he didn’t give up. He did not.
I’m more than proud to say he finally passed his math test last week also! Not only did he pass but did very well on his score. He returned to the room ecstatic, hugging everyone in his path. He sought me out and I gave him a hug, telling him how proud of him I was and how much I appreciated him not giving up. In his jubilation he told me, “Man, if we weren’t in prison I’d probably give you a kiss.” Clearly he was beside himself in excitement. But who could blame him? I relished the moment, reminding him all the times he wanted to give up but didn’t, again using the moment as a teachable lesson and testament to what can happen when we apply ourselves and don’t succumb to doubt and frustration that can seem overwhelming at times.
I have learned through my many years of tutoring that many men who end up in prison didn’t have great experiences in high school. They significantly lack confidence in their academic ability–with good reason–because, unfortunately, they didn’t get the proper attention and remedial help they needed when they were in school. I don’t say these things to criticize the public school system but to merely point out a fact. My point is that it is truly an amazing thing to witness the confidence these men gain as they diligently work their way through this revamped, rigorous GED curriculum, proving to themselves along the way how capable they are when they simply apply themselves and have someone who supports their efforts. And the reason I appreciate it so much is because I was them. And when I got my GED nearly sixteen years ago, it was all the evidence I needed to convince me that I could do more; that my greatest accomplishments lie ahead. I have no doubt the same is happening within each man I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years to earn their GED.
Martin Lockett is serving a 17 1/2 year sentence for a tragic car accident. Martin has substantially turned his life around by completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, published his first book and is currently working on his Masters in Psychology. Martin plans to counsel at risk youth when he is released. He hopes his insight, thoughts and experiences from prison will help those who have a loved one incarcerated or someone facing prison time.
To read more about Martin, CLICK HERE
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