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My Answer to Oprah’s Question

By David Monroe

San Quentin State Prison

While reading The Dragonfly Effect and reflecting on a quote from Oprah Winfrey, I found myself lost in my own thoughts pondering the answer to her question from a Last Mile perspective, and then from a personal brand standpoint. Oprah asks, “What’s the most important message you want to leave your audience with and why should they care?”

From a Last Mile perspective, we want to leave you with the message that change is possible and that we all have redeemable qualities. The Last Mile focuses on business literacy  and developing  entrepreneurial  skills  within  the  men  it  fosters,  but  more importantly, by the end of Demo Day, they have also built confidence, restored pride, and allowed the men an opportunity to tell their stories. These things may not seem that important to society, but trust me, they should be. The facts are that almost every prisoner will be released at some point and placed back in the community that they once menaced.

The Last Mile believes that it is important to send these men (us) back reformed and with the same confidence and pride that guided us through developing our own businesses, executive summaries, and then giving a presentation in front of our peers and the likes of the Secretary of CDCR, Matthew Cate, California first lady Mrs. Anne Brown, and The Wall Street Journal.

From a personal brand standpoint, I admit that the 15-year-old David Monroe was nothing short of a menace to society. However, I am no longer 15-years-old. I am now 30 and after spending the first half of my life on the free side of these prison walls, now I have spent the last half locked away behind them. To say that I have taken advantage of an opportunity would be an understatement. Since coming to the notorious San Quentin State Prison in 2003, I have obtained my GED and college (Associate of Arts) degree, while becoming a certified tutor through the Marin County Literacy Program. I have worked with at risk youth for the last 9+ years and have made a huge impact on some of their lives through my story and guidance. I have taken numerous self-help groups such as, TRUST (Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training), IMPACT (Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things), VOEG (Victim Offender Education Group), Alliance for CHANGE (Creating Hope And New Goals Ethically), Non-Violent Communication, Change Is Possible, No More Tears, Richmond Project, Developing a Positive Attitude, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.

And now I am also a product of The Last Mile and proof that change is possible. No one should be defined by their single worse act because it is what they do after it that tells you what kind of person they are. I am proof of that as I have made huge strides in purging my old behaviors, resolving my bad attitude towards life and people, and opening up to who I really am. All of this is key in my personal growth and transformation.

Hurray for me, right? No… hurray for all of us. You should care because I will be released in the near future, and it is important that I get all of this help so that I can return with the tools necessary for a successful transition and the maturity and integrity to function as a responsible adult. The truth is that these programs work and they minimize any chance of recidivism, criminal behavior, and most importantly, causing any harm to you or the community.  I hope that all of you care about the change that goes on behind these prison walls. I care because I want to do better and be better, and the support and humanity of society helps. So my hope is not only that you will care, but also that you are willing to help.

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All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. @TLM

  • http://www.facebook.com/juliedlouisville Julie Diehl

    David, you should be so proud of yourself!!! What an inspiration you are to so many people! Keep up the good work and God Bless You.

    Julie

  • Jerry

    Wow, amazing progress and congrats to you for having the proper focus. Keep it up and there is a light for you at this end of this long and winding tunnel. 

  • Shellyadelady66

    Life’s path sometimes leads us onto a incredible journey ….Truely inspiring….

  • Barbara

    David’s answer to Oprah’s questions is a good example of how people can rise above their situation and find a path to growth. It also shows tremendous maturity and being able to make the best of the worst situation. He turned his life around with balls and chains. Wow. 

  • Hilda

    You definitely following a positive path. All you can do is prepare mentally and emotionally for the life ahead, and forget the life behind. 

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelGSantos Michael G. Santos

    I’m really impressed with David Monroe.  His answer shows the commitment of someone who is determined to succeed in society, and law-abiding citizens should understand why his commitment benefits them.  

    Our nation’s commitment to mass incarceration has had ancillary effects on people who do not even know it.  Indeed, over the past several decades, prisons budgets have consumed a much larger portion of all public expenditures.  Currently, in the state of California, expenditures to fund the prison system exceed the budgets appropriated to fund the education system.  As a consequence, fewer resources are available to assist students who want to educate themselves.  Similarly, fewer resources are available to fund healthcare costs, social services, and other programs that benefit all Californians.  But the prison system thrives, gobbling up more than $10 billion in taxpayer funds.Despite those massive expenditures on warehousing human beings, the California prison machine fails in its efforts to prepare offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release. The evidence is clear, with more than seven out of every ten California offenders returning to prison after their initial release.  Those who focus on educating themselves go a long way toward reversing this trend, but the prison system itself doesn’t do enough to support the real winners like David Monroe.  Even though he has been confined in “notorious” prisons like San Quentin, he found strength within himself to carve out a better life.  In that way, he is like Rodin’s sculpture of the Self-made man, carving himself into a contributing, law-abiding citizen out of a block of stone.  I’m impressed with this young man, a young man that society locked inside of a penitentiary at the ripe age of 15 and kept him there beyond his 30th birthday.

    Leaders in our country who support such a system disgrace the founding principles of our society.  They point accusatory fingers at other countries for violating human rights, ignoring the fact that we incarcerate 2.3 million people in this nation. David Monroe has been one of those prisoners since he was 15.  He has served half of his life with the steel boot of corrections pressing down hard on his neck.  Despite that absurdity, he found strength within and refused to allow the system to strip him of his dignity.  By educating himself, contributing to the lives of others, and expressing his commitment to prepare for his release, David Monroe has earned his freedom, even if an unjust society wants to keep him locked inside of cages.  Let him out.

  • http://twitter.com/MichaelGSantos Michael G. Santos

    I’m really impressed with David Monroe.  His answer shows the commitment of someone who is determined to succeed in society, and law-abiding citizens should understand why his commitment benefits them.  Our nation’s commitment to mass incarceration has had ancillary effects on people who do not even know it.  Indeed, over the past several decades, prisons budgets have consumed a much larger portion of all public expenditures.  Currently, in the state of California, expenditures to fund the prison system exceed the budgets appropriated to fund the education system.  As a consequence, fewer resources are available to assist students who want to educate themselves.  Similarly, fewer resources are available to fund healthcare costs, social services, and other programs that benefit all Californians.  But the prison system thrives, gobbling up more than $10 billion in taxpayer funds.Despite those massive expenditures on warehousing human beings, the California prison machine fails in its efforts to prepare offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release. The evidence is clear, with more than seven out of every ten California offenders returning to prison after their initial release.  Those who focus on educating themselves go a long way toward reversing this trend, but the prison system itself doesn’t do enough to support the real winners like David Monroe.  Even though he has been confined in “notorious” prisons like San Quentin, he found strength within himself to carve out a better life.  In that way, he is like Rodin’s sculpture of the Self-made man, carving himself into a contributing, law-abiding citizen out of a block of stone.  I’m impressed with this young man, a young man that society locked inside of a penitentiary at the ripe age of 15 and kept him there beyond his 30th birthday.Leaders in our country who support such a system disgrace the founding principles of our society.  They point accusatory fingers at other countries for violating human rights, ignoring the fact that we incarcerate 2.3 million people in this nation. David Monroe has been one of those prisoners since he was 15.  He has served half of his life with the steel boot of corrections pressing down hard on his neck.  Despite that absurdity, he found strength within and refused to allow the system to strip him of his dignity.  By educating himself, contributing to the lives of others, and expressing his commitment to prepare for his release, David Monroe has earned his freedom, even if an unjust society wants to keep him locked inside of cages.  Let him out.

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  • Adeyemidawodu2011

    At least, David Monroe is now a reformed personality whether anybody like it or not despite still being in the prison . Without any confusion of mind, he has a good story for many others to learn from.

  • falllover46

    One thing that strikes me is you saying you spent the first half of your life on the free side, and the second half of your life locked up.  Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d have to say maybe it’s really the other way around.  It seems that your physical incarceration was the catalyst for freeing your mind; leaving the old ways of thinking and opening up up to the new.  I wish you all the best as you get ready to re-enter society.