A Conversation with Anonymous Community Member #2 of Ignacio House

July 13, 2021

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in July 2021, undergraduate student Henry James (C’22) interviewed community members at Ignacio House, New York. Due to the sensitive nature of information, interviewees are anonymous.

Can you talk a little bit about your educational experience prior to prison and what that was like?

Yeah, um, my education experience before my incarceration. You know, as a child, I was pretty much always a good kid in school, I always made good grades. You know, um, it was just, it wasn't a problem with me, you know, educating myself was no problem at all. But the problem was, you know, I didn't stay in school to graduate. You know, um, I was an honor roll student, A's and B's. And it was up into, like, eleventh grade, I dropped out of school in my eleventh grade year, you know, and, and I never got a chance to get my high school diploma. And so, therefore, I missed out on a lot of things like, you know, class, what do you call when classes get together 10 years later on stuff like that.


Yeah, so I don't have a reunion to go to and things like that. I kind of regret, you know, cheating myself out of my education. But um, yeah, education for me as a child was nothing. I loved it. I love to learn, you know, I really did love to learn. It's just that, um, it was cut short.

And then once you were in prison, can you talk a little bit about how you came to the [New York University, NYU] program?

Yeah. So it was December 2009. I’ll never forget. December 2009. I, um, it was the day that I earned my GED. You know, um, when I first got incarcerated, I said to myself, no, not when I first got incarcerated. Probably a couple years later, like a year or two later, I said, “You know what, I need to stop wasting my time. You know, I'm 27 years old, and I don't have a GED.” You know, I was trying to, you know, teach, talking to my kids about school, go to school, get good grades, and I'm like, I'm not even doing that. So I can't you know, I couldn't be a hypocrite. So I actually decided to go to school while I was incarcerated, my GED program. And it was kind of, like, a disturbing experience because in prison, well, from my experience, my GED class was a class of, like 20 students, most of them didn't want to be there, you know.

And so they were very disruptive. And you really have to want to be in that class to learn something. And you have to block out all the distractions. You got guys over here talking about when he was home. You got guys in this corner talking about what they're going to do when they go back home. You got guys in this corner, just talking out loud, disturbing the teacher. And many times the teacher would get discouraged, and she'll just sit down and just let the class go. You know, but, um, I, I stuck with it. You know, I endured all of the distractions. And, yeah, 2009 it was a day that I earned my GED. I walked across the stage with my cap and gown on. And it was one of the most happiest days of my life, you know, because I, in prison, accomplished something. And it really meant a lot to me, you know? So 2009 I got my GED.

And then between then and NYU, can you talk a little bit about your thoughts during that time period? And what made you want to pursue higher education?

Okay, so when I got my GED, you couldn't tell me nothing. I was on a buzz. I was on a natural high. Like, it really meant a lot to me, you know, like, I really got my GED. I saw it as my diploma, you know, it really started something within me that I didn't even know what was happening, you know. I got a bug for learning, for education, you know, for pursuing, you know, higher education. And like a year or two later, I got introduced to the NYU prison education program. And this is at Wallkill Correctional Facility. What happened was that, um, when I first got to the facility, I saw one of my guys that I used to know back at another facility. And he said, “Yo, NYU was here, at the facility, they have real classes and this and that,” and I'm like, “Man, that's not the real NYU. NYU’s not coming to prison now.” So I thought it was, like, you know, some kick off of, you know, NYU.

So I waited a whole year before I actually got involved. I want to sit back and see what was going on. So one day, I actually went, see in this facility, Wallkill Correctional Facility, NYU has their own, like their own wing. You know, it's upstairs in an isolated area. We have our own library. We have classrooms, you know, it's like a regular class, we have desks, we have chalkboard. And, um, one day, I snuck upstairs to NYU wing, and I saw what was going on, and they had actual professors that were coming in from the Washington Square NYU campus. They were coming in teaching. It was the real deal. So once I saw that, I'm like, man, I want to be a part of that. I always saw how the NYU guys, the students, would come back from days of class, they would come back to the dorm all hyped up talking about, “Hey, you heard about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel? You heard about this?” and they were just talking about school, and I’m like, I want to be a part of that.

Were there some classes that you took that were particularly meaningful to you, in those early years when you first got involved with the program?

Well, I like to challenge myself. I knew in school and in college it would be a lot of writing. So my first class I kick-started with a writing class, you know, and some type of history class. And we did a lot of writing. You know, we did a lot of reading. And from there, I started taking, from that first class, the critical part of it, I started to think about the world differently. So from that event, I started wanting to know, I wanted to learn more about, like social injustices and stuff like that. So I started taking classes tailored around learning about the social injustices in the world.

I can't remember the title of the classes I took, but what I was doing was I was learning about, you know, um, you know, the prison industrial complex. I learned about politics. I was learning about sociology, I was learning about, you know, the environment I live in. I was learning about all these things. And it was such an eye opener for me, because I never, from my lifestyle past, I never really thought about the world that I'm, you know, connected to. So the classes I was taking were actually connecting me to the world, you know, so that was, like, very profound for me.

Did your classes change how you were thinking at that time?

So what happened, what was going on within myself, was that the education was, as a metaphor, right, I want to say, when I was educating myself, in such a dark place, which is the prison, education was shining the light on that darkness. So I was becoming enlightened about who I am, about, you know, um, like I said, about politics, just about the world. About, you know, how to be a better me, how to make a contribution to the world. I was learning about, basically what I said, social injustices. I was learning about how politics plays a role in, you know, the condition that African Americans and, you know, are in to this day. I was learning about how, you know, the criminal justice system was against us in most ways.

I was learning about these things because NYU is, like, a very prestigious college. And so we learned about a lot of humanities, you know, a lot of social injustices, you know, and what it did to me was, it planted the seed within myself, and I was saying, I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem anymore. The years that I was in the program up until now, I was always thinking about ways to help make things better. You know, and that's why, that's how Say Word [his business] came into existence. You know, it's a way of me giving back into the less fortunate.

Do you think it changed anything about your day-to-day life on a smaller scale?

That's a good question. Um, that's a very good question. And I would say to that point, where you know, it, yes, it was through education that I actually discovered that I have a voice. That I have the ability to change things. You know, I, the most profound thing that I've learned through that whole experience, up until now, was that power of choice. There is a choice in every matter. Through education, when I was educating myself, then until now, I've embraced the whole concept of whatever I want to happen, begins now and within me, that I have the choice to bring into existence anything that I want to manifest.

And with that being said, that's how Say Word came into existence. I wanted to use the power of choice to help give back to guys and girls, that's about to reenter into society, to give back to them, you know, an experience of how to navigate through reentry obstacles upon their release. So that's the biggest, the biggest thing that I've got out of that whole situation was the power of choice. You know, a lot of people do things in life. And like me, I always thought I was a product of my environment. You know, like, this is just the way things supposed to be. Through education, I've learned that education for me was meant to create opportunities to make things better. So that's, that's the biggest takeaway that I've got from the whole experience.

How much of a role did your classmates and the community of the NYU program play in your experience?

It was like magic. Seriously, it was like magic, you know, like, we all volunteered to be there to learn. And I never understood the impact that another individual could have on my thought process, just to hear about how they see the world and how they, you know, internalize certain things. It really added on to what I was thinking. I was able to, like, it was like an exercise, a mind exercise. I was able to exercise my mind, to bend it, to stretch it, to see different perspectives to add on to what I was seeing, or sometimes if it didn't fly, I would just, you know, just let it be.

But it was so powerful, and enriching and to learn with others, to hear what others are thinking, to hear about their experiences, you know, that support is better, you know, as collectively than individually to learn, and that just made learning really full of energy.

And once I got that bug, and it really got me into learning this stuff, it just, it was no stopping. Like, you know what I’m saying, I want to do everything. I want to change the world. Once I caught that bug I knew I wanted to change the world for real. I want to do this, I want to do that. I want to do this. You know, it's like, damn bro, listen, you can't do everything. You have to like, focus on a focal point. And my focal point became reentry, prisoner reentry.

What are your goals for your prison reentry work?

You know, the prison system doesn't prepare us in totality for the challenges and obstacles that we're going to be faced with. They're so used to approaching the whole reentry and rehabilitation process from a one-size-fits-all approach. They fail to understand that these individuals have different problems. I, you know, we come from different backgrounds, so they don't take that into consideration when they talk about developing reentry and rehabilitation programs. They just feel like, “Okay, stop using drugs,” you know, “Get more rest,” and then you know, “That's going to solve your substance abuse and mental health problems.”

And that's what they teach in these classes, like, you know. They fail to ask us the questions. We're the one closest to the problems. They fail to incorporate us into that conversation. That's why I feel so passionate about changing the whole narrative. Rethinking reentry, rethinking rehabilitation. You know what? I don't even like those words. Because when it comes to rehabilitation, I feel real strongly about this, you know, a very close friend of mine, we talked about this before, “rehabilitation,” you know, and we sat and we broke it down, and rehabilitation, right? To restore someone back to their normality, the normal, right? For lack of better words.

If I came from housing projects in the inner city, crimes and drugs, fully, you know, fully blown in my neighborhood. My mom's on crack; my dad's in prison. You know, I'm a high school dropout. I'm selling drugs. How are you wanting to rehabilitate me? No, why would you want to rehabilitate me back to that state? There was nothing normal about that in the beginning. So I hate when they put rehabilitation on what they're trying to do. Because it's counterproductive. It's not even, it's not even the right language. Now, if they say habilitation, that changes the whole, I'm more, you know, receptive to that. Habilitation you know, instead of rehabilitation, because it's just the way they put the words.

Is it fair to say that your experience with NYU’s program was an example of “habilitation”?

Absolutely, absolutely. Like I said, NYU, it taught me a lot about myself. It taught me about, you know, my peers. It taught me about just human behavior. Because when I think about humanity, I think about human behavior, you know, and that's what NYU, that's one of their expertise, you know, humanity. So when I was beginning to learn about myself and about people, it just, um, my life just started to, you know, to make sense.

What do you mean by “making sense”?

I mean, like, as a youth, you know, growing up in those environments I mentioned earlier, I didn't have anything to lose. That's why it was so easy for me to pick up a gun. And, you know, and it was so easy for me to sell drugs. It was so easy for me to get involved in gangs. It was so easy for me to do these things because I didn't have anything to lose. That was my motto: I got nothing to lose. So once I started to, you know, gain intelligence, I started to, and that's another thing when I, as I'm educating myself, I'm building my confidence at the same time. So once I'm doing all of this, and this thing is going on inside of me, it makes sense now that I don't have to be a product of my environment. Why not create, you know, a lane where I can be a product of my success? You see what I’m saying? I don't have to be that. And education has took me outside of that box, you know, it took me outside that box. And that's why I said everything started to make sense.

Do you remember a moment when you came to that reflection?

Yeah. So I grew up as a youth with a chip on my shoulder. I'm mad at the world. I felt like the world owed me something. I was just like, you know, like, you know, I had that whole mentality, and it wasn't until a conversation in class with a professor that it started to change. And like I said, professors have a good way to facilitate this magic that happens in the classroom. So he sat back and let us, we're going back and forth about our positions in life. And not everyone is, you know, that's incarcerated comes from a messed up environment. You got some people that came from a two-family house, living in the suburbs. So now we were going back and forth, about why the system, you know, doesn't care about us. My small standpoint was: I’m mad at the world. That's why I do what I do. That's why I am going to do what I do. That’s my whole standpoint. And so, someone says something, and it just stopped me in my tracks. And I was able to sit back and say, you know what, some people do make it out.

You know, and I was kind of mad because I always wanted to carry that mentality, like, you know what, f*** the world. So when I was able to see that, you know, some individuals who were in my position as a youth, the same lifestyle, actually made it out. And are successful. Once I started seeing more people like that, it made me feel, like, you know what, I could be a part of that. I could change my life. I don't have to continue to say I'm a product of my environment and f*** the world. I don't have to continue to have that mentality. You know, so that's education, you know, and the classes at NYU helped me to embrace that whole concept, like I have a power, I have the power of choice. I can make my own decisions. I don't have to be persuaded by peer pressure or even wanting to be like the next person. That I can think of my own. Stand on my own. I can be independent. I can think independently, like, you know, all this is just hitting me, and I'm like, you know what, I have a voice. And I want to get it out. That's a big reason why I do what I do.

And you’re now working towards a social work degree, right?

Yes. That’s the end goal.

How have those changed the way you thought about the change you want to make?

So I learned this in prison a long time ago, right? My very close friend told me, “Q, listen, you always program with a purpose.” I never understood the weight of those words until I got into the energy of wanting to create something bigger than myself. But I say program with a purpose because, and what he was telling me was that in prison, don't just settle for a porter spot. A porter is like cleaning up, you know, don't settle for a mess hall job. Program with a purpose. Pick your programs that's going to help you along in your career, as far as the things you want to do in life. Pick everything with a purpose. So in my NYU classes, I pick my classes that's going to help my ending goal. That’s going to help me get there. So, like, my last semester, I took a business, a marketing class, principles of marketing, because I got to learn how to create websites. I got to learn how to, you know, do all this marketing stuff, because I have a business now, you know, so I'm going to need that. And I took a writing class. And that writing class actually helped me to formulate my thoughts, to articulate myself. So I'm going to have to learn how to do that for my business. So you know, yeah, I always try to pick my classes that's going to help me get to where I need to be, you know.

What has your reentry experience been like?

Well, I mean, I didn't, to be honest with you, when I came home, I didn't have a problem with anything. Like, one thing that stayed with me was how to move. Before my incarceration. I knew how to move in the streets. When I was incarcerated, I knew how to move. So when I came home, I knew how to move and I believed in myself. So with that being said, I knew how to get what I wanted. And when I came home, I didn't have a problem getting an apartment. I didn't have a problem getting a job. I didn't have a problem getting anything. When I came home, the first 90 days I was home, I was situated. I was doing more than, I had more than what the average person had on the streets that was out there the whole 15 years I was gone. Like I was really getting it. You know, like for real, I had a nice apartment. I had nice stuff. You know, I had a good strong community support system. I had NYU.

What's that word, social capital? I really had good people in my corner. You know, my parole officer [PO] was, like, my point guy, you know, because when you come home your parole officers mostly is, like, I don't want to say God, but it's like they determine whether you're going to go back or are you going to stay out? So my PO and I, the first one I had, he had like 30 years, he was a vet. He had 30 years in the game. You know, he's on his way out. He's real laid-back. You know, like I said, he’s the one that got me that job, but he saw the person that I was. So he didn't treat me like a regular parolee. So I had him for, like, five months. So like the sixth month, I had to switch parole officers. And my next PO was the total opposite. The total opposite. And you know, this parole officer didn't believe that I was worthy enough to receive any type of scholarship from NYU. He didn't believe I was worthy enough to talk to the youth, to mentor the youth. Because this is what I was doing. You know, he didn't feel like I was worthy enough to be treated like a human. Like his whole purpose was to lock me back up.

So that whole experience with him changed my whole view on parole officers. Because, unfortunately, I end up getting violated and I'm going back to prison. Yeah, I went back to prison for five months. And the whole experience for me was a learning experience for me. You know, I learned from that because I had a choice. You see what I’m saying? I had a choice. I said and did some things that I could have done differently to keep me out of prison. But in the heat of the moment, I just snapped. I snapped because he talked about locking me back up. I’m going back to prison. The whole prison experience just came to me. And I’m like, “Hell no, you’re not sending me back to prison.” And things just went south. You know, and, um, and like I said, that's the skill that I think prison should teach guys how to come home from prison, how to handle certain situations like that, you know, effective communication. Like I said, I was supposed to step back, and see the situation for what it was worth, and then weigh the consequences of my actions. These are the skills that [are] so-called reentry, these are skills that need to be taught to us before we come home. How to handle ourselves. How to think. How to really do these things at the drop of a dime. That's a skill. That's a skill. And I didn't have that. I didn't master that.

So I ended up going back to prison. And when I returned last March 3, 2021, when I came home, I had a whole different perspective of my parole position, my parole officer’s position, and my position. I knew my position now. You know, like, I understood my position. I understood now that it's going to take more of an effort for me to not only think about myself, but think about my family, whenever I choose to respond to whatever parole throws at me, you know. And now I've been home now like a year, like a year and a half, and have no problems with parole. You know, and it's because I approach it differently now. Whether it be a good PO or a bad PO, I don’t care now. I know how to approach the situation. So I got something good from that whole experience.

Did that reflecting you did happen in prison?

It happened while I was in prison, you know, like I said, I served a 15-year sentence and the release date is like the most important day for any prisoner. So my release date, all of that is behind me. The whole traumatic experience is behind me. All that's behind me. I felt like [a] chapter could have been closed in my life. I felt that chapter was closed in my life. When I got violated, that five months was worse than the whole 15-year sentence that I did. And I guess because I had already gotten a taste of freedom. I had already built myself up. I had, like I said, I had a lot of stuff. For a guy that just came home from prison, you know, my life was good. I was good. And a lot of people believed in me, a lot of people like, you know, was proud of me. Of course there were some haters on the sideline waiting for me to fall.

But what I'm saying is that, I felt mostly embarrassed when I got violated. Sitting in that cell, I felt embarrassed. Like it took me a while to contact my family, to contact my support system on the outside, it took me a while to reach out because I was so embarrassed. It's like, I was just sitting in my vomit, you know. I was mad at myself, you know, and it was then that I said, “You know what, you really got to, you know, start using your head. You're worth more than this. You're worth more than any actions a parole officer can take against you. You're worth more than this, use your head.” I vowed to myself that I wasn't going to, you know, react to their action. At least I wasn't going to react in an unhealthy way, you know.

So it was then that I really embraced that loneliness, of sitting back in that cell, that humiliating feeling of putting back on those state greens, you know, the whole humiliating feeling of walking to chow, having an officer telling me when to do what, when to do everything, when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when to use a phone, when to watch TV. You know what I'm saying? And it's probably safe to say, I probably needed that. Because I needed that reminder. You know, I needed that reminder. And it served a purpose. It definitely served a purpose.

We spoke earlier about how education has increased your confidence to some extent? Do you think this has played a role in your reentry?

Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. It definitely did. I mean, through the years, prior to my incarceration, you know, my whole life up into this moment right now has taught me a valuable lesson, you know, and that's to believe in yourself. You know, how to believe in myself. Even when I was doing bad or unhealthy things, I believed in myself enough to do them to the best of my ability. And when I was incarcerated again, and when I came, when I first came home, I believed in myself enough to take what I want. But in a good way, you know, if I want to get this job, I want to get this apartment, if I want, I got to get it. I got to put the work in. I got to grind. I got to get it. You know.

So that's how I transformed that power of the unhealthy way of believing in myself to the healthy way of believing in myself. And like I said, education was, like, my foundation of my confidence.

Well, education slash my religion, my spirituality, you know. Education and my religion play a major role in my confidence and my self-belief because all of that came to me understanding and accepting my worth. You know, when I understood that I was worth more than what they said I was worth, I begin to think differently, and to set my standards differently. My whole value system starts to change, you know, and then from, that just helps me to make the necessary steps in my life in order to get where I want to get and be where I want to be, you know.

Are you okay with talking a little bit more about the spiritual side of things, the religious side of things?

Yeah, sure, absolutely.

What role does religion play in your confidence?

Yes, you know how some religions are taught through parables? So I want to use an analogy right to say that when I was in prison, first of all, I'm a Muslim, right? So I've been Muslim for as far as I could remember. I wasn't practicing prior to my incarceration. But during my incarceration, I actually had a chance to spend more time with myself, to get into my faith, to get into my spirituality. I had a chance to do this individually and collectively with my community. You know, so along this process, I understood that there is a parable being laid out before me.

And God was showing and telling me that, you know, I was playing with my faith. I was putting in jeopardy, you know, like I was jeopardizing that connection I had with my Lord. I was jeopardizing that. I was compromising that, you know, in a lot of different ways. Like, you know, I was contradicting the vowed oath that I took to fulfill all of these duties. So all of this is going on. And I've began to see the end result of that, which is God sat me down in a place where I could remember him most. God sat me down in that prison, in that cell, and broke me down to my nothingness and said, “Hey, listen, you need to think about this. This may be why you're here. Because you took me for a joke.” You know what I'm saying? “You took everything for a joke. But I forewarned you. In the biblical text, the Quran, I forewarned what would happen if you play with me. You played with me. So now you see.” But he said, “Hey listen, I still got some mercy on you. I'm not going just do you dirty, all out dirty. I'm going have some mercy on you, and send you back out.”

So I think God was just basically sitting me down in a place where I can just, you know, meditate and reflect, contemplate on my role, my purpose in life, and my relationship with my Lord, you know, so it definitely played a fundamental part. Yes, absolutely.

How does prayer factor into that process?

Well, you know, prayer, we pray five times a day. It's an obligation. You know, and, for me, prayer is an aspect of meditation. You know, believe it or not, we have a ritual that we perform when we pray, and going through these motions, you feel different energies. So I'm a big fan of, like, you know, the universe, the energy. I'm a big fan of energy, you know, so, when I'm praying, it's like, I feel so at peace. More than I can ever feel in my life. It's like, I meditate like a Buddha, you know what I'm saying? And I'm having a conversation, just me and God, one on one, I'm having a conversation with him.

So He talks back?

Well, through life [laughs], through life. You know, once you get into the whatever, whatever religion you're part of, once you get into what's going on, you begin to understand, it’s like your spiritual third eye will open up to see, yes, God does talk back. It may be through a person. It may be through an experience, but it's a divine, you know, it's divine response to whatever type of relationship you have with your guides. It's a response to that. So yeah, he talks back, definitely.

In a way that it seems that education and religion can kind of feed off each other like, yeah, how you're reacting?


How maybe you don't react at first and how you're thinking about what happens to you, right?

And at the same time, they both actually provoke a lot of reflection. You know, so for me, like the deeper I get into myself, i's like an endless well. It's like there is no end. You know what I’m saying? So it's like the deeper I get into myself, you know, the more I believe that I can create something out of nothing.

Not to say nothing, that’s just a figure of speech, something out of nothing, because everything is something. But the deeper I get into learning about me, and what I can do, my capabilities, there's no stop. There's no limit, you know. And education provokes that. And spirituality, you know, religion provokes that at the same time. So with both of those forces, while I was incarcerated, it wasn't even like I was incarcerated. Because I was on a different level, you know, what I'm saying? I was on a different level [laughs]. Like sometimes it didn’t even matter that I was in prison, like I didn't even, I forget I was in prison because I'm going with the flow, I’m trusting the process. Whether it be religiously or academically, I'm trusting the process.

And the only thing that would bring me back to reality is at night, when I got to get locked in. When I walk in that cell and the gate comes behind me and closed. Because for the most part today, like I said, NYU at Wallkill Correctional Facility, they have their own wing, they own floor. So all day, if you're a student, you can be up there all day, doing homework, we have study groups, you know, we were doing a lot of academic stuff up there, you know, outside of going to class. So I would go up there and spend every day, five to seven days, at least five days out of seven a week. I was up there all day, as much as I can. I was up there because it took me away out of being incarcerated. If I wasn't on the third floor, I was in the masjid, offering prayer with my brothers, with the community.

So just imagine those two entities working together. I'm not even in prison no more, like, what happens in prison don't even concern me, you know, so I was, just like I said, on a whole other level man, you know, it really helped me through my incarceration. It made it easier for me to accept the fact that I'm away from my family, you know, my freedom, physically, is taken away from me. It made all of that easier for me to forget. And plus, when you're involved in these types of activities, the guards seem to, they see you, they begin to see you as not the same.

Because in the beginning, they treat you like you're the same. You’re all animals, you’re all convicts, you're all manipulative. We don't believe you, we don't trust you. That's how they treat you in the beginning until they get a chance to kind of see how you move, to kind of define “Okay, he's not one of them,” you know, so and we too, we see them the same way. It works both ways. We see them the same way: “You the police, you don't care about us.” But like I said, you have some that actually does. But back to the point, you know, yes, education and religion had a way of just taking me out of prison.

Alright, so Ignacio House. What’s the role of this community been after you’ve come back home?

You know, from the first day I walked in, when I walked in, it was nothing but love. Straight up love. I mean, it was, it was like, you know, even the brothers that was formerly incarcerated with, I seen some of the brothers there, you know, and it was just like, they say, “Hey, listen, this is our mission. This is what we're gonna do.” And boom, boom. And everything that they said, it was aligned with each other. The love from the community, the verbal agreements, like, their intentions, everything was evident. Everything played out, everything played out, you know, and, you know, it was like a month or two into the process, you know, my experience at Ignacio House, I began to see how valuable this place was for individuals coming home from prison.

You know, I began to see why Father Zach was drilling me so hard [during the interview process], because they don't want to just put any type of individual into their establishment. It takes a certain type of individual to be a part of the community life that they're trying to build. No, that they are building. It takes a certain type of individual to add on to that and not take away. So they were just safeguarding the integrity of Thrive for Life, Ignacio House. And I began to understand [and] accept that was why they were drilling me so hard. Because they got a good thing going on.

What sticks out to you in terms of what makes it so good?

A seamless and successful and healthy reentry cannot, or there cannot be any of that, unless you have something tied to the community. If these reentry organizations or programs is not tied to the social aspect of individual personal growth and development or reentry rehabilitation, if these programs don't have any ties to the social part of that development, then they're ineffective. But Ignacio House, Thrive for Life, they’re all about community, community building. And that's the element that I say, most of these reentry programs are lacking.

And why is that so important?

Because I always see like this, right? Let's just say if Department of Corrections were effective in rehabilitation programs, right? And they were concerned about our personal growth and development, us changing the inside of us, you know, recreating ourselves. What good is that going to do if the community I go to is still f****d up, you know, on the outside? So it's like a dual approach. It has to be from a community aspect, and individual aspect. You know, you have to create this type of community. You have to show individuals what this type of community entails. And individuals have to experience what it's like to live within a community. These are some of the things that most of us didn't have, but Ignacio House teaches us how, they’re habilitating us. So we're learning how to live within this type, it's like a utopia. You know what I'm saying? But um, that's the biggest takeaway that I have from Ignacio House, Thrive for Life.

It sticks out to me that maybe even though education, as you said earlier, made you reflect that you didn’t have to be a product of your environment, Ignacio House also potentially proves that the environment you’re returning to does matter.

Absolutely. And that's what, like I said before, that's when these reentry programs are missing. That community aspect, that social aspect. Because a lot of guys when we come from prison, from an environment where they didn't help us, they didn't help us better ourselves really. And we come home, some individuals carry that same mentality: like they're in prison. So we have to change that. And you can't really fault these individuals because they don't know how to change. They don't know the worth of, you know, the support of the next man as your brother. They don't know that worth. They don't know the worth of having a community to support you. They don't know the worth of just, you know, just being a part of that type of energy.

So Ignacio House teaches us how to actually live within that type of situation. And that's important when it comes to personal growth and development. You know, it’s highly important.

Are there other functions of the house or times of the week that you find important in that respect?

Some guys don't know how to live within their family. It starts with, I guess it doesn't matter, it goes both ways, you start with community or starts with family. But it starts with some at a point where you learn how to, how to be respected, how to be respectful, how to, you know, consider the next person’s feelings, how to, you know, just how to live, how to navigate through all of that. There has to be, that has to be, really, you know, it has to be, it has to stick out, it has to matter. You know, like I said, we don't, some of these guys, don't, we’ve never a day in our life experienced living in a community that cares. Because we were so used, so used to destructing our community. So now we live in a community where we have to construct it, you know, so a lot of us don't know how to do that. You know, so it has to be a way for us coming home to learn, you know, these skills so we can add on to our communities and families.

Do you feel like the house is teaching important interpersonal skills, then, in this way?

Yeah, the biggest skill, there's a lot, but I think the biggest one that I can say that I cherish and value the most is listening. You know, I learned how to discipline myself to listen, you know. It's a challenge. But it's a very important skill, you know, to listen to what's being said, and what's not being said, you know, so I've learned how to shut my thoughts out and actually attentively listen to what someone is saying instead of formulating a response. You know what I'm saying? So, with that skill, it brings, you know, it just naturally connects you to an individual. Some people just want to, they want to be listened to. Some people just want to just talk. They need somebody, you don’t even have to say nothing. They just want you to listen, you know, so that's the big skill that I take away from this whole experience is listening.

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