Opinion: Addiction, abuse, prison – I survived them all
Rising is an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara with a major in Sociology with a minor in Education. He grew up in San Ysidro and now lives in Santa Barbara.
Instead of preparing for my major like most students do, I took a different path in life and chose the most difficult route possible to get to where I am today. My whole life has been a huge research project full of experiences that one can only imagine. I experienced drug addiction, gang bangs, physical and mental violence, and incarceration as a youth. I spent seven years in prison. And I lived through two brutal riots in prison where I almost lost my life. Despite all of these experiences, in prison, education became a healthy outlet to deal with my trauma.
I took courses in sociology, psychology and university writing. Writing about my trauma not only helped me confront my past, but I also discovered a new passion for education. Faced with prison conditions, I was able to stay focused and stay engaged in a life of health, positivity and educational growth. I will never forget the one mentor who truly uplifted me while I was in prison. His name was Phillip Dorsett. He gave me one of the greatest books that really inspired me to change, “The Four Chords: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book gave me a set of values to follow and became a guide to help my personal growth. After my release, I started studying at San Diego City College. Ultimately, I completed my associate degree in behavioral science with a major in counseling, graduating with honors. I was accepted to several universities and went to the University of California at Santa Barbara.
My unique personal experiences have prepared me to navigate higher education while researching mass incarceration. Currently, I am working with a network of community members, academics and faculty who are committed to finding solutions to end mass incarceration through our collective first-hand experiences. One opportunity that has grown out of this network is the Underground Scholars Initiative, a grassroots organization that trains student leaders and previously incarcerated activists to become leaders of the social justice movement. Through Underground Scholars, I have worked hard on my leadership development through leadership training, which has helped me grow and develop healthy student habits like time management, giving me an edge in all the programs that I have been confronted with. Above all, I learned to assess my past in order to understand my strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, I am able to identify my weaknesses and remedy them with a positive action plan. Ultimately, embracing all of life’s obstacles and struggles prepared me to engage in theory and thrive at UC Santa Barbara.
I am now employed by UC Santa Barbara as the coordinator of the Gaucho Underground Scholars program. I have worked hard every day to create upward mobility for former incarcerates and gang members, showing the community that we are creators of chance and producers of knowledge and when the community invests in us, we introduce ourselves and let’s develop amazing programs that promote personal growth and holistic healing.
I currently have a GPA of 3.92 which shows my community that documented gang members and former incarcerated people are changing. I dedicate my degree and success to my community and family and all of the amazing mentors who believe in and uplift me every day.
I am currently applying for doctoral school. My graduate research plans include conducting a historical, theoretical, and ethnographic study of all formerly incarcerated higher education student programs across the state of California. I hope to collect and detail teaching methods, analyze best practices and develop a blueprint at the heart of the current recruitment and retention of formerly incarcerated students. Additionally, I want to build on existing restorative justice scholarship and advocacy work, further improving the equity and inclusion of formerly incarcerated students in the academy.
My academic life so far has profoundly uplifted my awareness and sociological understanding of the historical and social forces at work in punitive practices against low-income and historically oppressed communities that I myself have experienced as a poor working class Chicano, growing up in California. . The more I learned, the more meaningful my experiences entering and leaving correctional facilities since I was 12 years old. I became haunted by my past, but also pushed to move forward with research and advocacy. I look forward to completing my graduate studies and becoming a professor of sociology. My ultimate goal is that through a career in higher education, I can help empower formerly incarcerated students and scholars as knowledge producers and agents of change.
Please visit give.ucsb.edu/funds/give?id=397 if you would like to get involved in this work and / or if you are already incarcerated and wish to pursue higher education or if you would like to invest in our program. We need to commit to building each other up, instead of breaking each other down for profit. Join the movement to end mass incarceration.