Education is Your Most Powerful Weapon | Gateways

Education is Your Most Powerful Weapon | Gateways

October 2, 2019 100 By Ronny Jaskolski


– As a kid, I was told, you’re
either gonna end up dead, or in prison. I feel like they jinxed me. A lot of people kinda
look at me as a statistic because that’s what I turned myself into, but if you really hear what I got to say, my story and stuff,
then it’ll speak values. (upbeat music) – This is my friend, JJ. I met him while I was taking Gateways for Incarcerated
Youth, which is a college class that allows students
and incarcerated youth to learn alongside each other. This happens at the Green Hill School, which is a juvenile detention
facility for young men in Chehalis, Washington. JJ is currently in his
third year of taking the college class at Green Hill. When he was 16, he was arrested
and sentenced to 20 years. Today we talk to him on
the four year anniversary of his arrest. – Yo, my name is JJ, aka Baby Cowboy. My dad the Big Cowboy, and
then his little homie’s, Little Cowboy, and then
I’m just Baby Cowboy. I wanted to be like those
people that got respect from doing stuff in the streets. So that was my idea of a perfect day. If I got to smoke weed
and pop this pills, and go shoot people; ’cause that’s
what I grew up to idolize. It’s kinda messed up, huh? Yeah. When I was a baby, my
dad was still involved in the gang life, my mom was doing drugs, in and out of jail, so I
was raised by my great aunt, and my grandparents. And then both my great grandparents died. My aunt asked me who I wanted
to stay the night with, and I said my dad, but
that was after like, right as my dad changed his life around. And then in eighth grade, I
came home from school one day, and I found him dead in
my bed, ’cause he had this stomach problem, and
so he died from dehydration. I went to live with my mom,
who just got out of prison. It’s my first time living with her too. I wanted attention because I
just lost my father and stuff, so I acted out for attention. And then my mom went to
prison, and then I tried to do good for her, because
my father already passed away. So I tried to do good, and then
I got kicked out of school. But my attendance record
was so bad that when I tried to get into the alternative school that they denied me. And then, yeah, the summer came. I was just in the streets every day. And so six months after she got locked up, I got locked up. – JJ’s story is not uncommon. It’s been estimated that
one in ten American children have a parent that’s either in prison, or under supervision. And if you have a parent that’s locked up, you’re automatically at a
higher risk for going to prison. – A lot of people don’t
got family support. Like, even though my
family has been through a lot of stuff, like, I got
their support all the way. A lot of people don’t have that. Like people in here get
no visits, no phone calls, no money on their books, no nothing. So when they get out,
they’re gonna have nothing. So those are the people that come back. – Yeah.
– So Thanksgiving of 2012 was the last time I seen
all my family together. – What do you miss the most
about life on the outs? – My mom. Because she’s had a hard life,
and I kinda made it harder because I’m not there for her. But I be trying to, you
know, like, motivate her, tell her that you know,
just because I’m here, her life’s not over. I just miss being home
with my family, period. I wish I’d a been what people
call a square or a nerd. (laughs) – You wish you would’ve been a nerd? – Yeah. If I could go back. Since I’ve been
incarcerated, I realize that my life wasn’t over, and I
got to step back and realize where I was wrong at. And you know, I wanna prove
myself to my little siblings, my little brother, and my
little sisters, so that they can do it too. So that they can make
something of themselves, and don’t end up in a situation like me. That’s really what motivates me. So that’s why my graduation
ceremony, I told them that, this is for you guys. I did it for you guys. I’m just not trying to
go back to selling drugs, and stealing, and doing stuff like that. College class is something
that motivates me to do right in here. Kinda blew my mind getting
into science, and like in depth about how everything
in like, what is it, the big bang theory, and all that stuff? That stuff’s crazy. But I got through it. I pushed myself. You just gotta push yourself. And I was reading this
book about top 50 colleges in the United States, and
Evergreen was on there. And I’m like, wow, I go there. I’m trying to get out
with my Bachelor’s Degree, so that way, you know, I can
make something of myself. Education is powerful. It can take you far in life,
regardless of your situation. You just gotta use your mind. That’s the most powerful weapon. More powerful than any gun,
or any bazooka, anything. – What do you wanna do once you get out? – I got this Boys and
Girls Club in my hood that’s closed down,
and I wanna open it up. ‘Cause you know, Boys and
Girls Club, it teaches kids like, how to play sports, and
help them with their homework. But I wanna let them know
what they’re gonna… What they’re gonna have to expect in life. And to keep them out of my position. I know that I got a voice. I don’t really care if it’s
really like, globally heard, as long as people in my
community can hear about it. You know? I got so much love for
these negative people. Like people who are doing
negative, I just got like, ’cause you know, I know
where they’re coming from. And the positive people. I got respect for them,
because I wanna be them. Either you get right or you get left. ‘Cause if you don’t do right,
then people leave you behind. You know, you go astray. And that’s what happened to me. And then sometimes you gotta
sit down to stand back up. So I’m trying to stand back up tall. (upbeat music)