A Chance for Dreams By Tracy Lee Kendall

A JSTOR Second Chance Essay outlining the journey to a prison-based college education and dreams for how to apply it post-release.

A Chance for Dreams By Tracy Lee Kendall

In 1999, I found myself incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) After a mess of a life leading to a 60-year aggravated sentence for first degree murder. This meant, among other things, I had to figure out how I was going to spend at least 30 years prior to parole eligibility. I had a variety of options, yet faced obstacles due to prison bureaucracy, and the shock of losing my freedom and previous life.

Prior to my incarceration, I had obtained a high school diploma and enrolled in college numerous times. My efforts repeatedly ended in Failure due to my lack of discipline, criminal mentality, and constant drug and alcohol abuse. Somehow, I decided to enroll in various programs and education while in Coffield, the largest (population wise) prison unit in Texas. So I was enrolled in Trinity Valley Community College campus on Coffield by January of 2000.

I took as many classes as I could get, yet I could only afford so many at a time. It was a struggle at first, and I didn't do so well, yet things picked up. By 2014, I had accumulated 110 College hours, two associate degrees, and a certificate in computer science management information systems. Then in 2015, I found myself on a chain bus to the Darrington (now Memorial) unit to begin a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies, which I obtained from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2019.

As my education increased, so too did my maturity and insight. This equipped me with more perspective about the big picture in the world as a whole, as well as adaptability concerning the things around, and ultimately within me. Whether during peaceful times, or those when people were stabbing each other around me, or dying before my eyes, education has contributed to my resilience. This has helped me gravitate to priorities Beyond those which may seem immediate, yet our ultimately obstructions.

Education has also opened new avenues of communication and ways to connect with people I should have been around my entire life, in prison and the free world. Moreover, it allows me to enrich the lives of others and derive personal enrichment as well. Additionally the critical thinking and self-reflection enhanced by education has helped me to more effectively identify and avoid dangerous people and situations.

Rather than give me a new life, education gave me a second chance at having my life. from a young age, I excelled in school; yet the deeper I fell into drugs and crime, the worst I did. I spiraled from Gifted and Talented classes as a high school freshman, to alternative school by my junior year, and a murder charge a year after graduating - I had thrown my life away - but education brought me full circle, back to who I am. While it does not equate to a restart, it has allowed me to recover myself where I am.

The focus upon service to others  has also increased concurrently with education. In fact, I've tailored my education accordingly. For example, I have varied secular college, along with liberal and conservative seminary education as well, in addition to other private and government courses. My purpose is to gain the education, insight, and experience necessary to serve diverse persons and needs as they arise. This has led to efforts such as tutoring, mentoring, and other ways of facilitating others in various religious and secular contexts.

Along with these opportunities and value I derived from my education, it has also contributed immensely to my rehabilitation. Able to understand myself better, I realized that I never actually wanted to be a criminal. It's just that with limited perspective and immaturity - I couldn't see 5 feet in front of my own face. In other words, I failed to see beyond a selfish misconception of who I was and extend anything of value to the people and environment around me. Now, I will never even consider committing crimes or using drugs again.

Where to from here (2023)? Next semester, I am scheduled to resume college. Since I'm a now on the Beto unit, which has a TVCC campus, I have 110 in Residence hours in addition to 120 hours from another institution. I plan to get a couple more business associates fairly soon mostly with credits I already have. Then either find a master's program in the TDCJ or through correspondence, and further education thereafter.

Ultimately, my goal is to obtain a licensed certified drug counselor associates and bachelor's or master's degree in business, behavioral science, and humanities. Why? To be able to teach, tutor, and counsel online. That way, I can serve professionally in prison and in the event I am released. Selfishly, I'd also like a doctorate related to Sanskrit (which I've learned to study myself in here). Yet this is secondary to my goal, which is being equipped to serve others while supporting myself. This is especially because an extraordinary person I care for deeply has a condition requiring a fair amount of assistance, and online work means I would be able to be there constantly. If I continue to cultivate my education and experience, I can make this dream a reality.

So along with the second chance to reclaim my original potential in life, education has given me a chance to raise the bar to new potentials, wherein is found the place of dreams I didn't even know existed when the seeds were planted in 1999. That was when I first reached for something better and every type of education I engaged in there after. Yet the true power of education is not only to enable your dreams, it extends through you to help others actualize theirs, for the pictures a lot bigger than 30 or 60 years of any life. Together, our dreams may equal a second chance for the world itself - and for us to see its beauty.

Tracy Lee Kendall's Typed Essay. Page 1
Tracy Lee Kendall Typed Essay. Page 2

Editor's Note:

I selected this essay because Tracy moves us through his educational and personal journey without flinching. He acknowledges he may not be returning to society, but he continues to prepare for life on the outside if the opportunity materializes. It is worth providing context to the "chain bus" to fully appreciate the disruption Tracy endured to seek his next degree.

First, a request must be made to move from the central office, and once it is approved, the person's name is added to a movement or draft list. Sometimes the person receives a notice they are moving, but not told the date. The day before, they are summoned to an administrative building, and told to being everything they own. Each possession is catalogued and placed in a bag about the size of a kitchen trash can. Usually, a person can have up to four bags. Anything that doesn't fit is donated or destroyed. Many facilities restrict the person to their cell the day before the draft. There is no way to say goodbye to friends or to call home to let family know they are moving. Wearing the same clothes to sleep in, the person is given a cold breakfast and strip searched before being handcuffed to a belly chain that links to ankle shackles. The next step is to be leg cuffed to a partner, then lined up to board the bus.

Most chain busses don't have radios, and people sit in silence, trying to find a position that is the least painful. I checked the distance Tracy traveled between Coffield and Memorial, and Google Maps suggested it would take 3 hours and 17 minutes to make the 206 mile trip. He likely received a bagged lunch and dinner before going to an intake unit. If he is lucky, he will receive his personal property the next day, after the new facilitity inventories it again. Intake units often need a month or more to conduct orientation and move a person to another, less restrictive housing unit. Any seniority enjoyed at the previous facility is lost, and the person begins their prison journey all over again, learning the nuances of the new facility and rebuilding a social network.

Many people are dissuaded from pursuing an education in prison if it means enduring the chain bus and starting over with minimal possessions and friends. People without strong social support on the outside often have difficulty reestablishing themselves, and not knowing how they will have their immediate needs met in an unfamiliar place diminishes the appeal of pursuing education.  I heard some of this in his line "This has helped me gravitate to priorities beyond those which may seem immediate, yet are ultimately obstructions."