"Through reading, I found myself."


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I'd have to say that the book that has had the biggest impact on me while incarcerated has to be The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Though I am not of the Islamic faith, nor am I militant, this book has impacted upon my way of seeing things profoundly. It has taught me that I can utilize this time into becoming whatever I set my mind on becoming.

Young Malcolm was a drug dealer, drug addict, and burglar. But instead of dedicating his sentence to entertainment and pastimes, he applied himself to change. He studied hard, copying the dictionary -- words and their definitions -- out entirely. He learned discipline and fund religion. He began to question the reason for things being as they are and investigating the drive behind them. In sum, Malcolm used his prison time to become a better person. To hone his potential and when released be better for his stay.

When I came to prison I wanted to do something with this time and be prepared for the eventuality of these doors opening and my going back out into society. I didn't want to leave here (after all the years spent) the same person I was when I entered.

Everybody who comes into these walls changes. For the better or for the worse is entirely up to them. But change we all do.

Most inmates just want to get through their sentences in one piece and try to distract themselves through various means until their release, whether through sports, TV, working out, or reading. [They are] just trying to pass the time until their release.

Malcolm showed me that I can "use" the time. Or should I say make use of it. So I study. And I've studied hard.

First I acquired a dictionary from the Prison Book Program and bettered my command of English. Reading, writing, and speaking.

Second, I mastered a second language. Spanish. Reading, writing, and speaking.

I studied my heritage. Being that I am biracial, Puerto Rican and Irish, I was confused as to who I was. So I asked the Prison Book Program to send me information on these backgrounds.

Through reading, I found myself. By reading Malcolm X's autobiography, I became motivated and found direction. I became a better person from reading a myriad of materials provided to me and countless other prisoners by various prison book programs. I would like to thank these programs' volunteers for their dedication in bringing hope and information into these environments. Your work is appreciated and does a lot of help.

I thank you all!

-Submitted by Michael Santana
Upstate Correctional Facility, New York


Anonymous said...

Excellent! Very well written. It clearly comes from your heart. I know you will be sucessful when you are released. I will keep you in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Michael. As a developmental writing instructor, I have used excerpts from Malcolm X's biographical writings. I have used them to teach my students that reading is a wake up call for everyone at any point in their lives. I am glad to have read your post. You are a living example. People like you are the reason why prison literacy is an important issue not only to activists but to policy makers too. Thank you.