Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

I picked up the Oct. 2, 2019, edition of the “Springfield News-Leader” from our “free table” in the common area of the wing one day. I saw a story about a high school freshman class that held a candy fundraiser for a classmate, who suffered from a congenital disorder that kept him in a wheelchair his entire life. In my world with steel doors slamming, razor wire on the perimeter, guard towers and constant threats, this touched me greatly, and I wanted in.

I obtained the address to Glendale High School and established contact with students, who gave me information on how to donate funds to help the family. But I also wanted to make sure that a student who receives free lunches would get the candy that I purchase. I had been that student once, so I know it will mean a lot to someone. 

Funds are limited inside of prison, but I had just received $35 for a story I got published in a veteran’s magazine. My conundrum was that it was also the month that my favorite pizza was being sold as a fundraiser inside the institution. In here, outside food is golden. 

Real pizza from an outside vendor, or Candy for Collin? The pizza would fill me up, taste delicious, and provide short-term gratification. But helping a cause much greater than myself would be exciting, and it would touch my soul. It would fill up my entire being much longer than any food source ever could. Sharing the excitement with my peers might also generate infectious positive energy, possibly leading others to contribute too. It would provide much greater happiness and a sense of rectitude. 

The next day I went down to my case manager’s office and wrote a check from my offender account. Out of my $35 award, I sent $20 to the bank account the school directed me to, and $15 to Glendale High, with the request that candy be purchased for a student. I put both donations in the name of my late wife, Renee.

But that’s not all. 

I belong to an offender organization at this institution called the Unique Jaycees. It is an offshoot of Junior Chamber International, which promotes leadership and virtues in young adults. We call ourselves “unique” because we are much older, we made some poor choices that brought us to where we are today, but we desired change within ourselves and the betterment of our community. 

We were having our monthly meeting and it was my turn to pitch an idea calling for others to donate to the Candy for Collin project. I was nervous, but I showed them the article and spoke about what the class was doing. I reflected on my own time in high school and described the teasing that I had witnessed, but how I never stopped it and never did anything about it until now. I spoke about how I saw this as my chance to promote positive peer pressure for students by doing what is morally right. 

Then I read the article, and as I read, I saw the desire to do good in the men’s eyes. The men were hungry to make a difference. They might be former drug addicts, thieves, murderers, and dealers, but that was the past. They wanted to move forward and experience a new high: a sense of self-worth, a team, a purpose. 

The group of Unique Jaycee’s, inside a medium-security correctional center, unanimously agreed to donate to the freshmen cause. We brainstormed creating a card for Collin. We wanted something with strength, motivation, and something of interest to Collin. I noticed that in the picture in the newspaper, Collin had a lanyard around his neck that displayed the Star Wars logo, so we compiled Star Wars movie pictures and made a card. I roped in the Veteran’s Wing and included the US Army Warriors Creed on the back side. Men from around the prison signed the card in support of the young man’s recovery. 

We also wanted to recognize the righteousness of the freshman class with a certificate. A tiny moment became something huge for us. The ripple effect of kindness travelled out of Springfield, Missouri, up the New Madrid fault line, and shook the emotions of men at the Moberly Correctional Center. 

It created a high, a drug of contrition, manufactured at minimal cost and no harm to the body, and a firebrand release of goodness. I had once taken my freedom for granted, and I wanted Collin to enjoy his. That young man has his whole life ahead of him, and I wanted to be a member of his support team. Collin’s battles were now ours too. 

Although I’m writing this several weeks after I made the donation, I still feel fulfilled, swelling with pride and satisfaction. As the freshman class is helping Collin, they were also helping me in my life’s mission of moral restitution.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Shon Pernice

Shon Pernice is a contributing writer, a veteran and a Kansas City native, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medic and came home with traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He is incarcerated at Moberly Correctional Center in Missouri, serving a sentence for murder. He hopes everyone can learn from his experience. He has been published in Veterans Voices, The Beat Within and Military Magazine, and he is a contributing author to the book, "Helping Ourselves By Helping Others: An Incarcerated Men's Survival Guide".