Essay for Chance for Change Grant
University of Maine at Augusta
Why do I desire this opportunity to further my education, and what value is a college education to me?
In the forward to “Charlie Wilson’s War”, the author observes that, it is sometimes difficult to understand how a simple childhood experience can often shape an entire life. For me – and for many of the men I have been incarcerated with these past 22 years – nothing can be closer to the truths of our own lives.
As a child, teenager and young adult, I can recall that my “old school” father had a devastating arsenal of pointed one-liners that he strategically deposited as literal thought bombs across my cerebral landscape. Some worked; most didn’t. One of them – designed more for the snickering adult than for the youth it was meant to mock – has shaped a great deal of my life. Indeed, when my father would retort of himself that: “I’m not young enough to know everything“, my pride unwitttingly set me off on a course to prove him right. That single jab echoed in my ears for years afterward. It did not put a chip on my shoulder, it put a whole bag of chips on my shoulder.
Twelve years ago I was asked to write an essay similar to this one to accompany my application to receive a scholarship from the ‘Sunshine Lady Foundation‘. I can recall a sense of loss then, as I do now, that I squandered my teenage years and much of my early adulthood in pursuit of proving to others how much I knew, or how intelligent I was, instead of building on or even understanding the things I actually did know or wanted to know. But I made a decision, and then a commitment during the writing of that essay that pride could no longer be a part of any confrontation I was going to have with the gaps in my education. I finished that essay, was awarded the scholarship, and shortly atherafter got a particularly therapeutic hug from Doris Buffet herself. My outlook on life has been considerably brighter ever since.
At 46 years old, I believe that I am the oldest aspiring student here at MCC seeking this “Chance for Change” grant. Whether that provides me a clearer insight, or just a more urgent need, I don’t propose to know; but long ago I realized not only the financial benefits of higher education, but also the incalculable benefits of self-esteem and peace of mind that one creates by way of educational accomplishment. After high school I worked a variety of construction jobs, consistently climbing the proverbial ladder. Along the way I earned various vocational certifications that not only elevated my pay, but also compounded my desires to learn and achieve even more. Success is not easily forgotten.
In prison I continued my education by earning a literacy tutor certification from the ‘Barbara Bush Literacy Project‘. In turn I tutored several fellow prisoners – some beginning with their ABC’s – through completion of the GED’s. I also earned a health certification from the ‘Coastal AIDS Network’ that eventually found me working daily to educate other prisoners about the dangers of needle-sharing and tattooing. In my free time I researched and studied Maine family law, moonlighting to help incarcerated fathers re-establish contact with their children, and to fulfill child-support obligations. These personally motivated efforts – not sanctioned by the prison administration – eventually attracted the attention of the Bangor chapter of the NAACP. With that outside influence and funding, I was able to implement the ‘Family Ties Program’ at the Maine State Prison. Fourteen years later this program thrives, and has helped to alleviate the pain and confusion of countless Maine children with a parent in prison. In sum, my personal education is inextricably linked to hearing and redemption that far exceeded why I sought personally. Again, success is not easily forgotten.
At the hazard of hyperbole – and in the event that I have not put a concise value on my past of future education with what I have condensed above – I will try again. My past education is the only thing I have that can’t be taken away from me or restricted in any way. It has at times rescued me from hopelessness and despair. At other times it has guided me through a myriad of pitfalls and land mines that pervade the human condition. At the end of each day, I would be less of a son, father, brother, husband and friend without it.
I occasionally tell my fellow prisoners and fellow students to speak clearly, and with brevity, to the people who pull the levers that ultimately assist their career goals. And so, I’m going to take my own advice. I want this ‘Chance for Change’ grant. I need this grant to further me. in pursuit of my goals. Thank you for your consideration.
Steven R. Schoff Jr.
Maine Correctional Center.
Scholarship Granted; June 19th, 2017 “We were blown away by his essay, which weighed in my decision of awarding the full amount for the course.” Daniel Philbrick, M.A. (Director, University College at Saco)