A MOTHER’S PRIDE AND A SON’S REDEMPTION by Michael Bell
Late this spring I received a note from Eliza explaining that she was busy working on a gala in support of PNAP, and she thought it would be “neat to be able to open and close the event with some words from our amazingly brilliant students.”
At first I thought–me? Next I thought, who were the wise guys who suggested this invitation be sent to me? Suspects: Jason or Tim. Anyway, Eliza gave me a few guidelines as to what she was looking for, mainly being that I explain why it is important for folks on the outside to support efforts like PNAP and why that support was important to me. The rest was blah blah…no more than five minutes, blah blah blah….preferred artistic style…blah blah blah–sis I got you–chill.
I went through my process and, true to form, finished at the last minute and prepared to record at the studio…
On recording day I was early, so I practiced with studio instructor Anthony and studio students Julio and Thoman. They gave me advice to slow down, and–after I did that–there were four grown men with tears in their eyes.
Here’s what I recorded, and I hope I was able to speak eloquently on behalf of all Pnappers.
My name is Michael Bell, and I’m a proud member of the PNAP community of learners and a student in NEIU’s University Without Walls degree program at Stateville Correctional Center.
I’m supposed to tell you why it’s important for people to support and get involved with efforts like PNAP, but I’m not going to do that. That would be contradictory to the free and critical thinking that PNAP promotes.
I’m simply going to tell you what PNAP is, how it has affected my life, and what it means to the community of learners here at Stateville.
At 49 years of age, I’ve spent my entire adult life incarcerated. Due to my indefinite sentence, access to higher educational opportunities have been nearly nonexistent. Educating men who will never be released has never been a priority. Truth is, educating men who will be hasn’t been either.
Oftentimes incarcerated men serving long sentences are denied the most basic opportunities for education, even including a high school diploma or GED. Yet that fact has not stopped me or many of the men around me from seeking out and taking full advantage of whatever opportunities have presented themselves. PNAP’s most fundamental principle is that education is a basic human right, that all should have access to it, and neither place, time, nor crime should be a reason to deny it.
PNAP knows that education is transformative, and I can personally bear witness to that being true–not only for me, but for my family as well.
There’s a day that will forever be etched into my heart and mind. At that point I had been participating in PNAP classes for almost 2 years and had been taking courses towards my bachelor’s degree for a little over 12 months. During a call with my mother, I was complaining about being tired and how hard the work was, but the more I told her about my struggles the more excited she got. Then simply and calmly like a mother does, she said, “You can do it, I’m so proud of you!”
I was stunned, I was speechless. It wasn’t until that moment, when she spoke those words, that I realized I’d never heard them from either of my parents, in my entire life ever!
This is what PNAP is. It’s a mother’s pride and a son’s redemption. It’s not an organization; that word seems diminutive. PNAP is a culture, a care, a community of accountability. It is possibility, hope, and opportunity. It’s a family and a humbling expression of love for those who have been considered unworthy and unsalvageable. It’s being supported and not saved. It’s a rebirth of dreams in a place where dreams come to die. It’s a reminder of responsibility and a welcome weight of representing yourself. I will be always respectful of and deeply thankful for this gift.
It’s a mother saying ‘I’m so proud of you son,’ and it’s a grown man crying like a five-year-old when the call is over. PNAP is beloved, it’s appreciated and it’s necessary.
So instead of telling you all the reasons why you should support PNAP, I’ll ask you for reasons why you shouldn’t?
I’ll close with the words of Bronx native and street philosopher KRS-One:
‘The stereotype must be lost,
that love, peace and knowledge is soft.
Do away with that,
And understand the fact,
For love – peace must attack’
Peace and blessings,
Michael Bell is a University Without Walls student in the 2022 graduating class. His depth area is Justice-Centered Youth Development And Violence Prevention. It wasn’t until 2017, at Stateville C.C., that he was given an opportunity through PNAP to take college-level courses. That’s when he discovered the facilities educational community. In 2019 his dream of a college degree was reborn, as he sat on a prison work crew as a janitor, fighting back tears as he watched men he had taken classes with receive degrees in front of their family and friends. It was at that moment that Mike swore he would do all that he could to go from janitor to graduate. Later that same year Mike was accepted into Northeastern Illinois University’s University Without Walls degree program.