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Prison education prison graduate
Illustration by Teresa Tauchi

The following essay is part of PJP’s ongoing series, “Black Writers on What Lies Ahead.” A part of our Black History Month coverage, this special project sheds light on the future — the history in the making — of Black Americans incarcerated throughout the country.

For the last 24 years, incarceration has influenced my outlook on my future. But where I reside now — in a Texas prison — does not discourage me. It fuels me to rise above my surroundings. After all, achievements don’t come without adversity. In my future, I hope to obtain my freedom and become a better me.

The struggles of prison life have been a barrier for African Americans to overcome throughout history. I will succeed for myself and for those who died trying. Quitting is not an option.

Inside prison, I have made a personal choice to excel. I’ll be eligible for parole in 2028, so I’ve enrolled in classes to prepare me for gaining employment after reentry. I’ve published frequently as a writer, and my article on surviving the Texas heat inside prison was featured in The Guardian last year. I am working on getting a novel published. 

As you can see, I no longer let the criminal legal system influence my future.

This year, I will graduate from college with an associate degree. Earning a degree means I will have something to compete with when I enter the workforce. It is hard for people who have been incarcerated for a long time to find good jobs, but I feel optimistic about my prospects.

So many African American women have given me hope and influenced what I want my future to look like: Michelle Obama, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Kamala Harris. But as I close in on this accomplishment of earning a college degree, I must give praise to my late mother Claire.

She showed me how to keep my mind focused on things outside of the prison walls. She showed me how to stay up on current events and political news by sending me newspapers, magazines and books. She showed me ways to look past the oppressive atmosphere of incarceration by keeping our conversations away from prison life.

What I value most is that she taught me to be relentless in my pursuits. And she did this through relentless love. She taught me to not allow anything to keep me from my goals. She’s the reason I will soon be able to call myself a college graduate.

In the future, I want to own a logistics business and help the younger generation by giving them footprints to follow. If I can keep just one person from going down the wrong path, it will be because of all the Black people who came before and fought for a better future.

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.

Khaȧliq Shakur is a trans writer incarcerated in Texas.