‘We used each other as stepping stones to success’

For a recent class assignment, an OYA youth wrote about how others have inspired him to improve himself.

By Nathan, OYA youth

Nathan recently received this assignment for his writing class at Chemeketa Community College: “Write about a time someone has helped you or a time you have learned from someone or something.” Nathan’s finished essay impressed both his teacher and his juvenile parole and probation officer, Alex Contreras. Contreras says it’s one example of the many positive changes Nathan has made during his time with OYA. Below are excerpts from Nathan’s essay.

While in jail I met an 18 year old and this is what he told me, “My dream is to get out and make raps about the hard times that I have overcome so that people know that someone understands how hard life can be.”

This same individual was released three months later. After four months of being out, he called my unit to tell everyone that he had been given a chance to live his dream. This 18-year-old criminal had turned his life around. He was scheduled to do three concerts in Oregon and three concerts in Idaho. This touched the depths of my soul. I was so proud of a guy that I only knew for three months. This gave me so much hope, that if this individual could change his life after the crimes he had committed, I could as well. …

Other people thought inmates were criminals and heartless people that only wanted to steal and do drugs. … These criminals, these heartless people supported me more in a period of two years than anyone had in my entire life. They taught me to write poetry (and) song lyrics, and how to draw.

The most important thing these individuals taught me was that life had more to offer me, things that I had never imagined before. … If you don’t learn from your mistakes you will never move forward, you will never learn, you will never excel. …

I was ripped away from my biological parents at the age of seven and placed in foster care. The scary thing was, I wasn’t the only one. I had three brothers, one already moved out and was on his own, another 9 years old, and the third 5 years old. We were known as the “troubled kids.” It wasn’t until I was 17 that I received true help, after all 26 foster homes, counseling, anger management, and multiple other groups. It took going to jail to realize the burning hell I had been living in. In jail I met the most talented people. I met poets, mentors, musicians, dancers, and so many more. This was when I realized what little I had been taught about life. There were so many opportunities and experiences that I didn’t even know existed. …

For the first three months in this facility I made no friends, I didn’t even bother to introduce myself to anyone but the staff that approached me. Until one day, as I was waking up, a new inmate that was assigned to the bed next to me asked if I was from a specific town, my hometown. As I looked in his direction to see if he was being serious, that’s when I realized I knew him. For two weeks I had been so caught up in my own world trying not to (upset anyone), that I had not realized that a classmate from my alternative school had been placed into the same facility, placed in the bunk next to me.

After finding out that I had a friend in this unfamiliar place, I made another three in two days. After actually meeting a few people I realized that maybe these “inmates” that I had avoided for three months weren’t all that bad. …

After meeting all of these people, I had learned that being here wasn’t going to be easy but I could do it. To rebuild our thinking we used each other as stepping stones to success. Not only did I learn that I could get through the hard thing I had brought upon myself, but I could help others do the same thing. I left corrections with a new outlook on what others call inmates, criminals, convicts, murderers, and thieves. I call them friends. No human is truly bad, we just need to be trained, nurtured, and respected. …

Try to look at the news. The next time you watch and it says, “This man was arrested,” think of this paper and remember you don’t know what happens behind the scenes. You don’t know what this man went through or why he did what he did.

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