Today, in Prison

Cami Sotela, ’13, Psychology, is a graduate assistant in UMBC Residential Life

Camila SotelaToday, I went to prison for the first time in my life.

I was lucky enough to visit the correctional facility with some students and co-workers. We spoke with a group of men, some of who are incarcerated for life, and they told us about their leadership group focusing on positive change. They allowed us into their world, both past and present. They performed spoken word poetry for us, showed us the paintings and books they created, and pulled out diploma after diploma for various college degrees (most of which were earned behind bars).

One man in particular told us that he was charged with felony murder. When he robbed a bank, the teller that he held hostage was killed by shots fired from a police officer. Because this murder happened during the time he was committing a felony, he is responsible for that loss of life. He told us about reconciling and crying with the victim’s family, and maintaining positivity despite his circumstances.

I asked them “What can I do for you?” thinking that I am not a role model for at-risk inner city youth, nor am I a lawyer or policy maker. They told us to change people’s minds about inmates. They told us to take what we have learned, and educate others. They told us to pursue higher education and an interest in humanity.

I was deeply humbled by the stories that were shared with us today, and have become increasingly aware of my privilege. I was lucky enough to walk out of that facility today because of many factors which are not under my control. I cannot begin to understand what it must be like to be incarcerated, or have a family member in the system. I can only offer my support and empathy.

I am forever changed. I want to have a conversation with you about what this experience did for me, because that is how I can affect positive change. I want to see people communicate with each other about things that affect them and inspire positive anger within them. We each have the power to create a ripple in this great pond. You never know how far your actions will go, so be present, be open, and be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Contact the author, Cami Sotela, at sotelac1@umbc.edu

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