I Will Not Demean Them

Laura Nieman ’18, Pre-Nursing, is Secretary of the UMBC Running Club and a test proctor for UMBC Student Support Services.

Laura Nieman 2It always shocks and troubles me when I hear of people I grew up with, not even necessarily as close friends, but still grew and matured alongside nonetheless, getting arrested, incarcerated, or killed.

It’s just, wow… Wasn’t I just laughing with you a few years ago? Didn’t I just see you faithfully playing basketball every day in the court by our neighborhood? Weren’t you just really into skateboarding? Weren’t we just kids with hopes and dreams? We rode the same school bus. We ate the same terrible cafeteria food. You were a part of my childhood because you were a child like me, who I saw every day and could relate to. 

Now they won’t get the chance to finish growing in the way they should. So many opportunities just gone in an instant.

I am sad for them more than disappointed. I know it is not as simple as them “choosing” to be “criminals”– what an ugly, powerful label. I will not refer to them by it either. I only wish they had the guidance they needed to steer clear of that life.

I will not use them as a reminder to “stay focused” because that implies that they lacked self-discipline and motivation, and how can I judge the character of someone whom I have not spoken to in years? Who am I to talk about self-discipline when I have indulged and procrastinated, and sometimes just want to ignore all my responsibilities?

I will not use them as a lesson of “what not to do.” I learn from my own mistakes; I will not selfishly and self-righteously use theirs to build up my work ethic.

I will not demean them. I will pray for them.

I’m thinking of you, old friends. I hope this unfortunate moment does not define your life. And rest in peace to those who have lost their lives before they really ever got to live.

Contact the author, Laura Nieman, at la16@umbc.edu.

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