RESOLVE by Daniel Perkins

I want to take a few moments to air a concern, then to express gratitude for the miracles taking place behind these walls. I.D.O.C. recently issued a revised mission statement touting rehabilitation as paramount. This is the same rhetoric tossed around courtrooms every day. Yet it still seems to come with qualifications—the State of Illinois values some lives while devaluing others.

I.D.O.C. is currently making Stateville into an “academic community.” The problem is that people serving short sentences will be prioritized for educational programs. What this tells me is that education is available to people whose lives matter, and unavailable to people whose lives do not.

What is also overlooked is the fact that some of us have launched vehement and meritorious attacks on our convictions and/or sentences. Some of our cases involve corrupt police, detectives, and prosecutors, as well as lies, and some of us have been subject to Illinois’ draconian sentencing guidelines. Our sentence doesn’t necessarily reflect the veracity of our conviction. But this shouldn’t matter anyhow… Per a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) memo posted by I.D.O.C. Chief of Staff, Camile Lindsay, on June 30, 2021, prisoners will no longer wear the label of “offender.” We are just “in custody.” “We’re more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. We’re fathers, scholars, artists, etc.” For the sake of brevity, I won’t recite the entire memo. In theory, I suppose this renders us all equal. In practice, though, that isn’t true. We are all deserving of the programs I.D.O.C. has to offer. We should not have to fear that we will be snatched from a degree program we’ve poured our hearts into. Nor should we fear we will be exempt from future program availability. Nevertheless, we push on.

Our learning community here is powerful. I’m proud and blessed to be a part of it. Michael, Darnell, Reginald, and Juan are my fellow UWW classmates. We started this journey together two years ago. Collectively we have experienced over 100 years of incarceration, as well as possessing an invaluable coffer of knowledge and skills. This crew is capable of changing lives and communities. I had no clue that what I signed up for would be a profound and life-changing learning experience, but that’s exactly what it’s been. I want to echo Darnell’s sentiment in his Dispatch entitled “Standing in Solidarity.” PNAP’s staff is brilliant, considerate, and engaged. Their concern for our success is unquestionable. They work their butts off to put us in a position to succeed, helping us to develop tailor-made curricula.

The staff and student body have proven their commitment through many challenges. We’ve been through hell since the arrival of COVID-19. We’ve been on lockdown since March 2020. We haven’t been to the gym or to the chow hall. Most of us haven’t been to the visiting room. These are the places where we exercise, socialize, and spend time with those we love and hold dear, activities we rely on for grounding. COVID interrupted but has not stopped us. PNAP staff didn’t take long to implement a correspondence protocol. Although correspondence hasn’t been without its hiccups, we have weathered the pandemic together in solidarity.

After a year, we were able to start meeting via Zoom, though Zoom meetings have been suspended lately. Zoom allowed us to reunite with classmates and staff. What’s beautiful is to see everyone’s tenacity and growth. It’s clear no one took a break or used COVID as an excuse to be lazy. I’m so impressed with and motivated by my classmates. I’ve seen their knowledge, skill sets, and ambition grow. Our Depth Areas, writing, and communication skills have evolved. Everyone is hungry to make a lasting impact in our communities, and I have no doubt that each of us will be able to do just that.

We’ve all been through so much. We’ve all been part of so much suffering, loss, and trauma. Real pain comes with that. That pain is the number one motivator of change. At times we feel buried alive. We live solitary lives with uncertain futures. We feel dehumanized, yet we rise to the occasion every day, in spite of unspeakable living conditions. Being able to remain focused, driven, good-spirited, humble, reachable, teachable, and motivated in light of the aforementioned conditions is no small task. But we, like all humans, are resilient and amazingly capable of adapting to most anything.

Thank you to our PNAP staff, faculty and community advisors, NEIU staff, and all academic building personnel for your unselfish commitment to us students. Your work is not in vain. I am not the same man I was two years ago. I’m better and wiser. A part of me died during this incarceration. No one will miss him anyhow. The man born of this educational experience is full of compassion, accountability, cultural and racial sensitivity, communication and listening skills, belief in self, and knowledge that we are all capable of change.

Regardless of one’s sentence, we all deserve and need education in our lives to build a better tomorrow. We all deserve a chance at rehabilitation. What lay dormant in me came to life with this experience. One thing’s for sure: this has been the best experience of my life. I hope I’m able to continue this journey. I’m in admiration of and debt to all our staff and my classmates. I’d be proud to put my children under the tutelage of any of you. I pray that I.D.O.C. doesn’t break us up because of their determinations of whose life is worth saving. Until we’re in class together again, be well and strong, and never waver in your resolve!

Daniel Perkins is a UWW student at Stateville prison. His Depth Area is Social Entrepreneurship with a focus on Positive Youth, Community, and Workforce Development.