5 signs you’re at the right school

Choosing a college was stressful, challenging, and one of the biggest decisions I have ever made. As a 17-year-old, there weren’t many things that I decided for myself. This was that first chance at independence, at freedom, at living your own life. I am obsessed with the school I chose (The University of Michigan), and I’m going to share with you, as a graduating senior, 5 signs you know you’re at the right school.

  1. When you walk through campus and smile at how beautiful it is

lawI fell in love with Ann Arbor – with the way the Diag opens up to every building on campus, and how the snow looked in the Law Quad. I fell in love with how happy people looked relaxing in the Arb, and how the city is a sea of maize and blue on game days. Over the years, little bits and pieces of Ann Arbor became home to me. When I am walking to class on the first warm day of Spring, I can’t help but smile because I believe that I live on the most beautiful college campus.

  1. 2. When you find a group of people who make you feel at home

When I think of my college experience, I define it by an organization called Camp Kesem. group.jpg This is a nonprofit run by students at chapters across the country that offers a free week-long summer camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. This org has not only shaped my career path, but it has given me the community that I have called my family the past four years. Having a community of peers who understand and care is the greatest gift I have received from my time as a Wolverine. I could not begin to fathom my college career without Kesem.

  1. When you think of what your life would be like if you went to a different college, and literally cannot imagine what type of person you would be
    photo by jeremymitnick.com

stadium.jpgI am from Louisiana, and pretty much every student from my small Catholic high school went to one of two colleges in the state. I was one of very few (like literally 6, I think) students who went to a college out-of-state. This was a huge deal for me. I’d never lived away from my parents or my friends, and I knew practically nothing about Ann Arbor. Now, as a senior, I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had gone to college in Louisiana. I would not be the person I am today, nor would my career path look the same.

  1. 4. When you go home for breaks and miss your friends and being at school

My parents live in North Carolina, so going home for breaks is far, and they last too long. I love spending time with my family, but usuallytour.jpg after a few days at home, I cannot wait to get back. I text my roommates and friends constantly, making plans for what we will do when we’re back. This is the most obvious way that I knew I was going to the right school.

  1. When you’re about to graduate, and you can’t imagine your life anywhere besides here

Graduation is creeping up on me, and my emotions are all over. I cannot imagine living anywhere else, because Ann Arbor has become my home the last four years. grad.jpgChoosing to go to UofM was an incredibly hard decision, but it is by far the best decision I have ever made. I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made and the memories I’ve had here. I love it so much, I decided to stick around a little longer to receive my Master’s of Social Work. A2 can’t get rid of me quite yet.


photo by jeremymitnick.com

This article was written for ScholarshipPoints Campus Life. You can see my article and contributor page here.


On Incarceration and its Issues

This semester, I am in a class under the Department of Psychology called Project Outreach. This class is a service-learning class where each student in the class is a given a placement where they will participate in community service projects outside of the class each week. My section of this course is called Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Each week this course consists of our 1-2 hours of placement work and 1-2 hours of lecture/discussion on topics of Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

I was placed in a group called the Youth Arts Alliance through a program called the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP). I will be working with juveniles in a youth center in a nearby county –facilitating sessions focused on using your pain, passions and happiness to create. I am beyond excited to begin working with these young adults, and I am so hopeful in how much they will impact the way I see myself and the world.

Each week in our lecture portion of class, we have an outside guest speaker come into class and share their work and experiences in the Criminal Justice system. This past week, a man by the name of Ronald Simpson-Bey (Program Associate of AFSC – Michigan Criminal Justice Program) spoke to our class. Bey began his presentation by sharing about his organization and his past. He was incarcerated for 20+ years for an unjust sentence. His time in prison taught him a lot about the sort of man he wanted to be when he returned home. He learned a lot about the way the incarcerated were viewed by society and how they were treated on the inside. Upon being released, he began working with the American Friends Service Committee in order to better the lives of the incarcerated, those with a criminal record, and their families.

On our first day of class, our Student Instructor shared this video with us from the Last Week Tonight Show with John Oliver. This clip discusses only a small amount of the infinite issues with the prisons and the criminal justice system in the United States.

When Bey spoke with us, he shared some pretty shocking statistics about the prison system. There are over 2.4 million people currently incarcerated in the United States. Our country only makes up 5% of the total world population, but we incarcerate almost 25% of the worldwide prisoners. In the state of Michigan, the budget for prisons is over $2 billion a year – this is higher than the budget for education in our state.

There is an endless laundry list of issues facing incarcerated Americans – including the over classified security levels, grievance processes, food served to prisoners, overcrowded facilities, and the difficult process of getting money or medications on the inside. These are only a few of the issues facing prisoners in the United States. 

I was captivated by Bey’s passion to make a change for those on the inside, but the part of his presentation that I will never forget was one particular story he shared from his time in prison. He told a story of one day that he was expecting a visit from his four children, but after several hours of waiting and waiting, he thought something might have happened that had prevented them from coming to visiting hours. He used some of the precious money in his phone account to call home to check in on his kids. When he reached one of his family members, he learned that his oldest son (21 at the time) was shot and killed by a juvenile.

Since his sentence was not yet up, he worked furiously from the inside of the prison in order to ensure that this juvenile was not charged as an adult in court. This man did not want his son’s murderer to be charged with a life sentence as an adult. He said that if this kid were to be charged as anything but a minor, “It wouldn’t bring back my son. It would just destroy two families.” The entire room was struck into complete silence by this man’s words. 

As someone who was on the inside for so many years, this man knew that no matter what this kid did to his family, he didn’t deserve the way prisoners are treated. I don’t know how to even begin to explain how much I feel for Bey, his family, and all others who are affected by the United States prison systems, but I can say that I know that nothing will change if we continue to turn our head the other way and ignore it. 

In his video on prisons in the US, John Oliver says, “At least Sesame Street is talking about prison. The rest of us are much happier completely ignoring it. Perhaps because it is so easy not to care about prisoners at all.”

We live in a country that is addicted to incarceration as a tool for social control. As it stands now justice systems are extremely expensive, do not rehabilitate but in fact make the people that experience them worse and have no evidence based correlatives to reducing crime. Yet with that track record they continue to thrive, prosper and are seen as an appropriate response to children in trouble with the law. Only an addict would see that as an okay result.

– James Bell, Do One Thing