After being sentenced to 26 years to life in a California state prison, Jason Bryant was determined to turn himself around and stop causing his mother pain.
He spent the next 20 years bettering himself, earning his bachelor's degree and then two master's degrees behind bars. He also started looking for ways to give back.
One of the initiatives he helped spearhead at Soledad State Prison was a unique reading program that pairs inmates with students from a local prep school. Palma School for boys is in nearby Salinas, California, and teamed up with the Correctional Training Facility at the prison to create a book club. Soon, the program was helping participants in and out of the prison!
Incredibly enough, Jason eventually teamed up with the accomplice of his original crime, who was also trying to better himself, to do more good. He had an idea to start a scholarship program to give back to the students at Palma, and Jason agreed to help make it happen.
Calling themselves the "boys in blue," a group of prisoners from the reading group asked the school if they could donate their meager wages to help pay for a student's tuition.
"Regardless of the poor choices that people make, most people want to take part in something good," Jason said. "Guys were eager to do it."
Prisoners only make about 8 cents an hour, yet somehow they managed to raise $30,000 for a student who was struggling to afford Palma!
The money was awarded to Sy Green, a member of the reading group whose family had been hit by tough financial times. His story was one the prisoners knew all too well: He'd come to Palma to flee a rough public school where drugs, fights, and gang involvement were common. With their help, Sy could stay at the prep school and out of the trouble that landed many of them in prison in the first place.
"It brought me to tears," Sy's dad, Frank Green, said later. "At that particular time, it was a truly a blessing. It was unheard of."
With help from the boys in blue, Sy was able to graduate from Palma and is now studying at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He said the fact that the prisoners helped pay for his schooling makes him work even harder to succeed.
"That's only the right thing to do. Beyond the scholarship, the knowledge that they pour into you, that's the best thing," he explained. "They definitely take my future serious and they genuinely do care about me as a person."
As if that wasn't enough, when Sy graduated from Palma, four former inmates came to celebrate with him! Among them was Jason, whose sentence was commuted thanks to all the work he did to help others grow and heal.
The reading program is continuing during the novel coronavirus pandemic via Zoom, and the prisoners are already saving up for their next scholarship.
Sy said his life was forever changed thanks to these men, and he plans to go back and visit them on his breaks from college.
As for Jason, he started a nonprofit to help prisoners continue to rehabilitate their lives. After all, the scholarship is proof that they want to do good to make up for their past crimes. "If more people just decided to do good things, this world would be a better place," he added.
What a powerful reminder that there are kindhearted people everywhere! Don't forget to share this story to spread the love.
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