A Thriving College Student Thanks The Incarcerated People Who Made His Private High School Education Possible
The unexpected act of generosity came by way of a private school partnership with Soledad State Prison.
January 02, 2021 at 6:07 pm
Four years after a group of incarcerated men helped him raise money for a private high school, Sy Newson Green is attending the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and thriving as a member of its basketball team.
The group began raising money for Green in the fall of 2016 and by his sophomore year, they had raised a total of $32,000 in 2017 to cover his tuition. This was no easy feat for the incarcerated men who earn about eight cents per hour, with some prison jobs paying as much as $1 per hour.
The much-needed donation came at a time when Green was struggling to afford the school while his family suffered from several crises that hit their pockets. Facing a series of challenges, the student's family had to cover the cost of his father's heart transplant and pay for the treatment of his mother, who lost her vision when a softball hit her eye. Adding to their financial turmoil, both parents had also lost their jobs, The Washington Post reported.
A high school student needed help with tuition, so some prison inmates started saving up https://t.co/aj0sXVR5p0— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) January 1, 2021
With the family in dire straits, the all-boys Palma School in Salinas, California, said it could provide a scholarship to help Green, but it still wouldn't be enough to cover the $12,900 annual tuition. Then came an unexpected act of generosity, courtesy of the prep school's reading group partnership with Soledad State Prison.
Jim Michelleti, the English and theology teacher who created the reading program, said the incarcerated group asked if there was a student in need of assistance.
"I didn't believe it at first," Michelleti said. "They said, 'We value you guys coming in. We'd like to do something for your school. Can you find us a student on campus who needs some money to attend Palma?'"
The incarcerated men then began raising money by completing prison jobs, such as cleaning and clerking. They garnered enough funds to cover about three years of tuition for Green.
“I broke down and started crying because I knew where it was coming from,” Sy’s father, Frank Green, said about the donation.
The partnership allowed students to take regular trips to the prison, where they read and discussed books with those incarcerated. As they came together, the two groups were able to learn about each other, exchange knowledge, and develop empathy, CNN reported.
According to The Post, the men raised $24,000 from their own pockets. They also collected $8,000 from donors from outside the prison.
“It definitely was a surprise and a huge honor,” Sy said. “That’s not something that happens every day.”
Jason Bryant, one of the generous donors, said guys were eager to help.
"Regardless of the poor choices that people make, most people want to take part in something good," said Bryant, who served 20 years for armed robberies in which one victim was fatally shot by an accomplice.
Bryant has earned his bachelor's degree and two master's degrees while incarcerated.
"I'm never far from the reality that I committed a crime in 1999 that devastated a family -- several families -- and irreparably harmed my community," he said. "I keep that close to my heart, and I would hope that people can identify the power of forgiveness and the probability of restoration when people put belief in each other."
Bryant said about 2,000 people in his unit agreed to donate twice a year, some giving as little as $1 and others contributing as much as $100.
“I think that inherently most people, even those of us who have made the worst decision in our lives, want to be a part of something good,” the 41-year-old said.
Sy and his family became closer with their new friends when they started visiting the prison to take part in the Palma reading group.
"Beyond the scholarship, the knowledge that they pour into you, that's, that's the best thing," Sy said. "They definitely take my future seriously and they genuinely do care about me as a person."
The college freshman, who is majoring in communications, said he feels relieved after his father got a successful heart transplant last year. He's also feeling good about his own future, with plans to play professional basketball and later work in sports broadcasting.