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A ballpoint pen lays on top of a mathematics worksheet.
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This article was first published by Mule Creek Post, a newspaper at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.

In December, 2021, the Peer Literacy Mentorship Program (PLMP) in Facility E helped two more students earn their GEDs. Frank Rojas and David Guardado both enrolled in the program with its bi-weekly classes and daily tutoring and then saw it through successfully.

“I never thought I would get my GED,” said Rojas. “I never attended high school before coming to prison. I dropped out of school in the sixth grade after one month.”

Upon arrival at Mule Creek State Prison, Rojas found himself at a desk in Ms. Pulley’s Adult Basic Education III class in Facility C.

“Ms. Pulley gave me confidence,” said Rojas. “She showed me I was capable of learning.”

Math a foreign language

Rojas gradually began passing his tests, though he struggled with math. “Math was like reading Chinese,” Rojas said.

After he became a Level II and moved to Facility E, Rojas became a daily presence in the PLMP classroom. “The mentors stayed on me,” he said. “Esquivel and Bryson encouraged me every day. I started doing complex math on the white board with Johnson.”

Another mentor, Ajay Dev, also worked with Rojas. “He was very proactive, always asking questions,” said Dev.

Mentor Shawn Brusacoram sought to challenge Rojas’ math skills with demonstrations and additional practice problems. “I would work with whoever was available,” added Rojas. “I was in there over an hour every day.”

David Guardado joined the U.S Army after dropping out of school in the 10th grade. While enlisted, the Army offered a tutoring program to assist Guardado with his entrance exam that revealed he had a fifth grade math level. 

“I was so afraid of math,” said Guardado. “I was embarrassed.”

While enrolled in Mr. Singh’s ABE III class, Guardado passed some portions of the GED exam. But once he enrolled in PLMP he was able to get one-on-one assistance with mathematics.

“This program is amazing,” exclaimed Guardado. “It really helped a lot.”

“Take it serious”

Similar to Frank Rojas, Guardado was consistent in attendance in the PLMP classroom. “I was always studying,” he said. “This program allows you to apply yourself according to your schedule. I’m hoping to get my cellies in next.”

When asked what they would tell fellow prisoners who have yet to achieve their GEDs, Rojas said, “Utilize the program. Take it serious. It’s more than just showing up, but it is worth it.”

Guardado added, “Go for it! We got nothing but time, so make it count.”

The structure of the Peer Literacy Mentor Program allows for flexible scheduling of tutoring and creates an opportunity for prisoners to practice accountability for their education. Graduates achieve not only a degree that will increase their employment opportunities, but also a level of confidence that impacts their self-esteem. Stated graduate Guardado, “If we accomplished this, there’s no telling what we can do.”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Christopher Bryson is a reporter for the The Mule Creek Post, a newspaper published out of Mule Creek State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated.