A Long Awaited Graduation

It was a three-hour drive through the desert before we arrived at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison near Blythe, California.  Our colleague, Gustavo Delgado (TUMI Satellite Administrator), volunteered to drive my wife Cathy and I to the first graduation of The Urban Ministry Institute in this prison, honoring a man named Albert.  It was Gustavo’s first time to visit prison.  We knew it would be a special day for all of us.

Albert was among the first TUMI students at RJ Donovan Prison (San Diego) in 2008.  After finishing half of his required courses, he was suddenly transferred to Ironwood Prison, which had no TUMI program.  He and nine other TUMI students persistently asked Prison Fellowship to start TUMI in Ironwood and finally in 2012 their request was granted.  In April 2014 Albert was almost ready to graduate, but at the last minute he was again transferred to yet another prison – Chuckawalla, where again there was no TUMI program.  So finally Albert’s graduation was approved by the prison and his special day arrived.

The three of us met with Prison Fellowship’s staff and volunteers at the front security gate.  Among this delegation was a surprise guest: Gary Ashley, Albert’s mentor from RJ Donovan.  After walking through the prison yard, we all entered into the small chapel and saw Albert in his cap and gown.  When Albert saw Gary Ashley, not having seen Gary since his days in RJ Donovan, Albert broke down in tears, rushed to him and thanked him for coming.

Here is what Albert wrote about himself for the graduation program:

“I was born in a rough neighborhood in the city of East Los Angeles.  My future prospects of making it through the barrio were slim to none.  Unfortunately I was destined to a life of crime and prison life.  I spent 36 years of my adult life in prison, not including my youth incarceration.  In 2008 I enrolled in The Urban Ministry Institute Capstone Curriculum of which I am very grateful for the spiritual education TUMI provided for me.  Through the help of my Lord and TUMI I have broken the cycle of violence and crime.  I am strongly rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.  I am strengthened in the inner man by the Holy Spirit.”

We learned that when Albert first went to prison, he could not read or write his name.  He taught himself to read while in solitary confinement.  He said, “TUMI is the first thing I have ever finished in my life.”  It was a proud day for Albert, for his Prison Fellowship mentors, and for us who had the joy of witnessing the grand transformation of a man who was once a criminal and now is a leader for the Kingdom of God.

Don Allsman is the Vice President of World Impact and the TUMI Satellite Director.