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Inmates at Soledad State Prison Raised More Than $30,000 For High School Student In Need

Inmates at Soledad State Prison Raised More Than $30,000 For High School Student In Need

More reasons why we need restorative justice!

Inmates at Soledad State Prison raised more than $30,000 for a high school student in need, CNN reports. 

California's Soledad State prison is home to the state's largest concentration of men serving life behind bars. Seven years ago, the prison's Correctional Training Facility (CTF) partnered with Palma School, a prep school for boys in Salinas, California, to create a reading group to bring the men and high school students together to learn about each other and develop an understanding. Since then, the group has become more than just a place for sharing knowledge and stories but a real connection driver. Recently, when one student was unable to pay the $1200 monthly tuition for Palma due to familial hardship caused by medical emergencies, the inmates stepped in to help. 

Jim Michelleti, an English and Theology teacher at Palma and the creator of the reading group, said, "I didn't believe it at first. They said, 'We value you guys coming in. We'd like to do something for your school...can you find us a student on campus who needs some money to attend Palma?'"

The "Brothers in Blue" program members then set out to raise money, garnering more than $30,000 to create a scholarship for student Sy Green, which will assist him with graduating this year and attending college at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Jason Bryant, a former inmate who helped launch the program, spoke about the "Brothers in Blue," saying, "Regardless of the poor choices that people make, most people want to take part in something good. Guys were eager to do it."

Bryant served 20 years for armed robbery and spent his time rehabilitating and turning his life around while earning a bachelor's degree, two masters, and helping to run leadership training programs for inmates. His sentence was commuted in March, and he now works as the Director for Restorative Work at Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs (CROP), a restorative justice organization. Bryant said hundreds of incarcerated men jumped at the opportunity to help Sy, donating anything they could, a feat given minimum wage in prison can be as low as 8 cents an hour. One inmate, Reggie, gave his entire monthly check of $100 to the cause saying, "I get paid to do what I do, so, why not pay it forward and give it to someone else for a change?"

While they weren't able to choose which student their fundraising benefitted, they all agreed that Sy was the perfect candidate. His parents sent him to Palma to avoid the gangs, drugs, and violence prevalent at his neighborhood public school. When Sy's father, Frank Green, needed to have emergency heart surgery, the family fell on hard times, Frank said the help from the Brothers "brought [him] to tears."

"At that particular time, it was truly a blessing. It was unheard of," Frank added.

Since the donation, Sy and his family regularly visit the prison, building relationships with the Brothers with four of them attending his high school graduation. Sy said the understanding that hundreds of men behind bars made sacrifices for his education keeps him motivated and inspired daily. He plans to continue visiting them while on break from college, where he will be a student-athlete and studying sports broadcasting. 

"That's only the right thing to do. Beyond the scholarship, the knowledge that they pour into you, that's, that's the best thing. They definitely take my future serious, and they genuinely do care about me as a person, said Sy.

Bryant said the Green family was perfect for the scholarship because they trusted the inmates' leadership abilities. The family allowed the men to mentor Sy, bringing him in for groups while sharing his goals and vision while holding him accountable. 

"They put in an incredible amount of not only gratitude and appreciation but also trust in us to help mentor their son. And that was remarkable," said Bryant.

He hopes that their journey can help spark a conversation about rehabilitation and restorative justice. The reading program has continued with Palma virtually since the pandemic hit, and the Brothers plan to continue the scholarship program with the help of inmate leadership groups and CROP. They plan to continue serving and hope they inspire others to do the same. 

"I'm never far from the reality that I committed a crime in 1999 that devastated a family -- several families -- and irreparably harmed my community. I keep that close to my heart, and I would hope that people can identify the power of forgiveness and the probability of restoration when people put belief in each other," Bryant said.

A special thanks to the "Brothers in Blue." Because of you, we can.

Photo Courtesy of CNN