By Abby -
“Hey Abby! I don’t want to be nosey or anything but you never came home last night, are you
“Oh no worries! I’m coming back from prison!”
This was my short conversation with my roommate yesterday. This week I had the opportunity
to drive down with my boss and several other professors and students to go to the High Desert State prison. We were going to the prison with a program SUU had recently partnered with, Hustle 2.0.
Hustle 2.0 provides a rigorous educational program for prison and jail systems with the goal to give people who have been incarcerated a second chance in life by providing them with the skills that will aid them in readjusting to society when they finish their time in prison.
All of us volunteers (referred to as “Homies” in prison) had completed a course from Hustle 2.0 so we could have an idea of what we were going to be doing. As we passed the 3 levels of security we still weren’t really sure what to expect. We knew we were going to be mentoring the incarcerated men (called “Mavericks”) by helping them make resumes, practice for parole, and learn about starting businesses. But we weren’t sure how it was all going to go down.
I nervously walked alongside President Wyatt to one of the prison gyms all the while eyeing the security guards watching us with large sniper-looking guns. When I walked through the doors of the prison gym I was greeted with Hawaiian leis and a lot of high fives from the Mavericks. This was not how I pictured a level four maximum security prison.
There’s a lot that happened in that room. Everything ranging from karaoke battles, hula hoop
competitions, and mentoring for parole/business/resumes. I could write about the incredible
dance skills of Tyler Stillman or the professional drawing skills of the Maverick Jose and Junior but then I wouldn’t be giving justice to the incredible events that happened there.
Cat Hoke who is the head of Hustle 2.0 had all of us line up on a line going down the middle of the gym. The “Homies” were on one side of the line while the “Mavericks” stood on the other side facing us. We were all given the direction to not break eye contact with the person in front of us as Cat would say statements and if the statement applied to you, you would step towards the line, if the statement did not apply to you would take five steps back.
Some of the statements that Cat said were, “I had loving parents who would let me know they
loved me every night,” “I have been suicidal”, “I have depression”, “I had parents who helped
pay for my college education”, “I have been in isolation for longer than 20 years”... Cat asked us questions for an hour and we each moved closer or farther from the line.
Halfway through it I started crying. Watching people step closer or farther away from the line
sharing some of their most vulnerable and hardest experiences in life really hit me hard. Let it
be known I hate crying, I avoid it at all costs - especially in front of people. So here I was in a
room directly facing men who have been convicted of murder, armed robbery, and other violent crimes crying my eyes out. But I wasn’t alone. I saw full grown men and women cry along with me as we went through this exercise.
While keeping eye contact with Marco who was the Maverick in front of me across the line, I felt an amount of empathy that I have never felt before. This man had been through hell. All the Mavericks had. Some of the Homies had too. But we were in that moment just there to
understand each other.
When I stepped towards the line signifying some of my hardest times in life Marco comforted me with empathy in his eyes and a reassuring handshake (the Mavericks weren’t allowed to hug the female Homies). When he stepped towards the line I couldn't control the amount of fluid coming out of my eyes and would offer what I hoped to be a hug in handshake form.
That day in the prison we all learned about humanity. These men in prison are often forgotten
and suffer alone. We came sharing and receiving light. Those 9 hours in prison were the most impactful 9 hours of my life.