• John & Vivett Dukes

I, Too, Sing Sing America: Wilfredo Laracuente's Story

One of the driving missions of SpeakYaTruth.org is to give a real voice to those who are incarcerated because it seems as if society has forgotten about them and rendered them voiceless. In this second installment of the "I, Too, Sing Sing America" series (Joseph Wilson, an inmate who found his voice -- literally and figuratively --  via Baroque opera was featured in part one of this series on February 15, 2017), we hear from Wilfredo Laracuente. He is a classmate of John's in Mercy College's undergraduate program at Sing Sing who I had the pleasure a meeting a few times while visiting John. Mr. Laracuente's voice is clear, concise, compelling, and most worthy of your thoughtful attention. I implore you to please give it to him.

My name is Wilfredo Laracuente. I was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. I am currently on year sixteen of a twenty to life prison stint. Sharing the experiences of pursuing higher education during this prison stint is a new dynamic. I recently published an article in the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons (Volume 25, Number 2, 2016) entitled: ""The Building Blocks That Lead to Higher Education: Programs Provide Direction Behind Prison Walls." I find it humbling to be afforded the opportunity to be heard. I want to assure anyone reading these words to fully comprehend the premise of a second chance. I refuse to allow one poor choice to define and encapsulate the rest of my life.

Throughout the course of ten, fifteen, or twenty years of incarceration one cannot begin to quantify the impact felt by family and friends. Scratching the surface of numerous struggles i.e. a lack of education, emotional discord, adversity, hardships, and it's adverse affects, compels objective thought to enter the equation and ponder..."What will become of the men and women who inevitably reintegrate back into our respective neighborhoods?"

Basic human dignity creates a dual paradigm: On one hand empathy for the victims and their families impacted by crimes rises to the surface. In the same breath, what becomes of the individuals who committed these crimes and are now embedded in the prison system? The rebuilding process begins once the prison doors slam. Programs and educational opportunities become paramount in confronting the mindset that led to incarceration. Success is contingent upon actions and words aligning in preparation for eventual release. Taking advantage of the therapeutic and educational opportunities during prison stints dismantles incarceration and creates a turning point.

Learning the power of words and developing a command of languages humanizes people regardless of circumstances. The ability to change becomes tangible and real. Templates and examples of men who decide to pursue their higher education and refuse to reinforce stereotypical behavior transposes into a culture. Individuals who dispel misnomers and diffuse the power of words such as "ex-con", "ex-felon", and "prisoner" garnered during conversations pertaining to incarceration are rebuttals utilized when discussing successful prison reform.

Many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people rebuild their lives based on accountability and responsibility, embodiments that were infused into their preparation and language years prior. There are levels of readiness developed during incarceration that evoke a willingness to reshape one's identity and eliminate poor choices that may lead to poor behavior.

There is a need today unlike ever before to help men and women who have experienced incarceration first hand find their voices. Narratives pertaining to furnishing tangible services, familiarizing oneself with growing concerns inside prison populations, and amplifying the premise that yes, there are viable resources in place (higher education) if taken advantage of, can provide a level of success post-incarceration are needed. 

When one promotes success stories of men and women behind prison walls striving to become viable it provides something not experienced by many -- a connection. A belief system that resonates into a way of life accurately depicting constructive individuals with the ability to excel at anything they transfix their minds to accomplish wholeheartedly. Higher education behind prison walls is true criminal justice reform; enabling a group of people to achieve self-reliance and become accepted in the eyes of the public regardless of a conviction.

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