Liberal Arts Are For Conservatives Too by Ronald Warren

A JSTOR Access in Prison Second Chance Essay about discovery, hope for a degree from UMass Amherst, and a burgeoning interest in the French Revolution

Liberal Arts Are For Conservatives Too by Ronald Warren

About the Author: I am in a Connecticut prison and my English professor provided the prompt. I was arrested on a drug charge after I completed a residential treatment program and given a 4 year bid. I only started college because the alternative was cleaning the administrative building or sitting in the library all day that doesn't have heating or cooling and that is NOT GOOD for my health. I will be 32 when I get out in August and hope I can find work while applying to college. You can use my name because my family will be proud to see my essay if you publish it.

As I sit within these cold prison walls that will be boiling in a few months, I reflect upon the choices that led me here, the pain I've caused my family, and the dreams I once had. Guilt, shame, and regret overwhelms me. I find a flicker of hope in my education. A second chance awaits me, and the path to redemption lies in education.

Incarceration was supposed to be a time of reflection and growth, but once here it was just boredom and people getting into nonsense since there wasn’t anything else to do. I thought it would be the end of the road for me until I sat in my first class. The only way to make my family proud with this time away and mend the broken bonds is through education.

I am determined to earn an AA degree in Liberal Arts before I leave. This is the only degree available and I thought it would be a waste of time since I am not a liberal and didn’t want to learn about art. The knowledge gained in history, philosophy, and sociology proved how little I knew about the world.Earning an AA degree while incarcerated will not only provide me with a sense of accomplishment but also demonstrate to my family that I am committed to bettering myself. They have been my rock throughout this. I envision the pride in their eyes, and it drives me to push harder and forget about the nonsense around me.

I plan to go to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for a BA in French. This decision stems from a desire to learn more about the world. I don’t know French now but I really liked learning about the French Revolution and the long culture is interesting. Learning French will help me to understand everything written about it without relying on translated versions of it.

By obtaining a BA in French, I can immerse myself in a new culture and gain a more global perspective. My dad works for the Post Office and thinks I should go into computers because it is practical and I will find a higher paying job. He thinks French is a waste of time the way I thought Liberal Arts would be a waste of time. I agree that I don’t know what to do with a French degree since teachers can’t have felonies, but a professor said with a doctor degree I could teach in a college and I can read all the French I want! My sister prints study guides and mails them into me every week so I can learn the basics of writing and speaking French while I am here.

In the end, the pursuit of education is more than just earning a degree for me. As I work towards my AA degree and dream of my future at UMass Amherst, I have a goal and know that if I can do this here, than anything else is possible. I know that by acquiring an education, I can make my family proud and seize the second chance that lies before me.

Editor's Note:

I chose this submission because it was well-crafted, and (once again) the author is lamenting that his work choice involves cleaning or working in a space incompatible with his health. The need for purpose and goal-oriented opportunities for people inside jails and prisons instead of years of warehousing is a common thread inside most of these essays. His bio mentions that he completed an inpatient program for substance use, then was arrested, which piqued my interest further.

The sequence of events suggests that Ronald admitted himself to a treatment program. I infer from Ronald's narrative that the charges stem from an event that occurred prior to the admission to the residential treatment facility.  The limited number of available beds, the high cost, and reams of paperwork required to get into treatment suggests he had resources and support to access the care he needed. He was not mandated to treatment by the court system. We don't know Ronald's specific circumstances, but arresting someone for drug possession after they complete medical treatment for the problem seems counterintuitive. I also wonder if the prison made him take more drug treatment once inside the prison system.

Ronald's aversion to a "liberal arts" degree because he thought it conflicted with his personal values was an absolute delight to read. I want to know more about what he is reading and what about the French Revolution grabbed his imagination (storming the Bastille?). Bonne chance, Ronald!

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons