By Matthew Fleischer – Take Part
Xavier McElrath-Bey was locked up as an accomplice to murder before his 14th birthday. A participant in a gang murder, McElrath-Bey spent 13 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for his crime between 1989 and 2002.
Though many young people in similar circumstances would be written off as lost causes, McElrath-Bey discovered something inside the prison walls that street life had prevented him from seeing—the power of education. After continuing his high school studies on the inside and graduating with a GED, McElrath-Bey felt he was only just beginning to learn.
So he started taking college classes offered by the prison.
“I had a very good professor,” McElrath-Bey tells TakePart. “His name was Zaric. He challenged us and introduced us to things I didn’t realize applied to my daily life. I started to understand more about myself.
“There’s a therapeutic component to education. It gives a sense of belonging. Inmates receiving an education start to realize they can be agents of social change. The first time I gave a presentation in front of my fellow student inmates, I felt great. It made me want to go out and get my masters when I came out.”
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(This article first appeared on Take Part and is excerpted here by permission.)
Matthew Fleischer is a former LA Weekly staff writer and an award-winning social justice reporter in Los Angeles.