For the past seven years, students from the Palma School in Salinas, California have been part of a book club at an unlikely place—Soledad State Prison. Mia Mirassou and Jim Micheletti founded the book club called “Exercises In Empathy.”
Jim said that students would go into the prison afraid but would leave with a new perspective on the incarcerated men. “They go in thinking monster … and they come out thinking a man. A human being … they’ve done bad things, but there are no throwaway people here,” Micheletti said.
Former inmate Jason Bryant who participated in the book club said that the discussions went beyond plot lines and protagonists. “It was incredibly refreshing to have young men come into a space with us and see us as what we are, which is people,” Bryant said.
At 20 years old, Jason and Co-Defendant Ted Gray were sentenced for their involvement in a 1999 robbery that resulted in a shooting death. Jason became a fan of the book called Miracle on the River Kwai, where prisoners of war would sacrifice for each other and call it mucking.
He and Ted decided they would muck for one of these students. They hatched a plan to raise money on the inside to create a scholarship for the young man!
Prisoners in the state of California can work on jobs like sweeping, clerking, and making furniture, and are given a base pay of 8 cents an hour, but if they have an industry job they can earn a dollar an hour. It’s not much, considering they have to purchase a number of their own supplies. But that didn’t stop nearly 800 inmates from raising $32,000 for the scholarship, even though it took them 3 years. These donations often meant giving up an entire months pay to help out.
The beneficiary was chosen by Mia and Jim; who knew exactly who needed it.
Before Sy Green entered his Sophomore year at Palma his father had a heart transplant, and his mother had an accident and lose her vision. Both parents subsequently lost their jobs. “That was a financial burden, with all the medical bills and stuff,” Green said.
Sy was shocked to learn that he now had a scholarship thanks to these inmates. “I was mind-blown. … And then immediately, I was just grateful,” he said. “They put all this effort and all this work into me. So I have to honor that and carry that legacy on,” Green said. He is now a 19-year-old college student. He graduated from Palma School last year and says he plans on paying the inmates’ good deed forward.
This is the power of books. The right book, in the right hands, at the right time, can change lives. And that’s your Good News Story of the Day which you can read in full here. But also remember there was another lesson all these students were learning exemplified by Bryant.
The reason that Jason Bryant is a former inmate is that California Governor Gavin Newsom granted him clemency and a second chance at life after 20 years behind bars.
Bryant plans to use his freedom to continue to mentor students like Green. Bryant is the Director of Restorative Programs at CROP, a nonprofit that’s working to reduce the rate of recidivism through training, career development and stable housing.
“I don’t know about redemption. … I can say this, I know that those of us who have truly transformed our lives are committed to adding value in any way that we possibly can,” Bryant said.
There are no throwaway people.
Story and Image from CBS News.