Stacks of books with different colored covers at different heights form steps.
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When I came to prison, I did not see my 57-years-to-life sentence as license to continue doing wrong. On the contrary, I figured that by keeping my nose clean and pursuing an education, I would be giving myself the best chance at long-term survival, and setting myself up for opportunities to cultivate a meaningful life — even behind bars.

With a full head of steam, I began taking classes at Coastline Community College. I put the pedal to the metal for three years and walked away with two associate degrees. The first was in science and math; the second, in social and behavioral science. The journey transformed me. I gained a sense of dignity. My aspirations were stimulated. And I got a bit smarter too.

No sooner than I graduated, I found myself chomping at the bit, eager to use my education. Knowledge is not much of a prize in and of itself, but its value is only realized by how it is used. Fortuitously, the Office of Correctional Education had just launched a peer literacy mentorship program. I was selected as a literary mentor, and a new chapter of my life was underway.

Since working as a literacy mentor, I have helped students in the classroom day in and day out. Whether inside or outside of prison, it seems to me now, there is no greater purpose for my life than to try and make a difference in someone else’s. Seeing the blood, sweat and tears of students chasing academic goals and achieving them continues to motivate and inspire me. 

It convinces me that an education is the sharpest weapon with which we prisoners can arm ourselves. I believe that if we sharpen them well enough, we might just put prisons out of business altogether. I say we go for it. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Jesse Rinke

Jesse Rinke is a Kansas native and a Navy veteran. He is incarcerated in California.