Rewriting My Story

By Emerson

My senior year began like any other, but I never would have imagined going from being a straight-A student to being in a jail cell. August 2018 marked the end of summer and a semester of college applications and planning for my future. I was still somewhat new to the school; I had just transferred from a school in Covina to Koreatown midway through the end of my junior year.

That’s when I first met my Fulfillment Fund College Counselor, Ms. Lee. She had come into our classroom and told us about how they help underrepresented communities and that she would be a resource to help me get into college. Our teachers encouraged us to participate in their College Access program and told us about the Fulfillment Fund scholarship. So, by the start of my senior year, I was already working with Ms. Lee on my college applications. I had everything going for me: the grades, extracurriculars, and the support I needed.

However, just before winter break, my life was turned upside down when I made the biggest mistake of my life. I did something stupid and ended up in jail in Alabama. For a few days, nobody knew where I was or what had happened to me. I just disappeared. Eventually, I could call my family and tell them what had happened. 

I was gone for three months and was looking at a potential of four years in prison. I was just barely 18 and in county jail with people who committed violent and severe crimes. These months locked up really changed me. I was profoundly impacted by my experiences. I was treated like an adult even though I was still in high school and in the process of applying for college.

I spent a lot of time alone in my jail cell. I read many books and did a lot of soul-searching, asking myself where I went wrong and thinking about all the people I let down. I thought about my mom, my little sister, who was four years old at the time, and the rest of my family.

I’m not going to lie: being in jail, treated as an adult, was a scary place to be. I couldn’t show a lot of emotion. I tried to keep my head down and started getting used to the solitude. Then suddenly, with no warning, one day, the guard called me over and told me I was being released. No one knew I was getting out — not my family or lawyer — no one. They opened the doors and cast me into the 35-degree Alabama winter.

Everything about this experience was brutal, but returning to my life, family, and school was much more challenging than I expected. The weight of my actions was heavy on me. I was so behind on everything and missed most of my senior year. While I was gone, I missed all of the critical deadlines for college applications, even though Ms. Lee had tried to submit them on my behalf. The work I had put in to get into a good four-year university was erased and chances of getting in were long gone.

Re-integrating into high school was hard; it was the polar opposite of the last three months I had spent isolating myself. I came back to econ class, and my friends, when my friends saw me, they ran over to me, and even that felt weird. During lunch break, I’d just stay alone, getting depressed, thinking about my mistake. I even contemplated suicide because I felt my life was over and that I’d never be able to get back on track.

I remember first seeing Ms. Lee when I had just gotten back. She came right up to me and hugged me. It made me think of my time in jail and how, so many times, all I ever needed was a hug. Ms. Lee was there for me. She never gave me a hard time. We picked up where we left off and continued planning my future when the hug ended. She got me back on track and into community college. I was also just in time to submit my application for the Fulfillment Fund scholarship, which was also a huge help.

The next few months, I had to focus on graduating. I stayed after school to make up for lost time and get my hours in. Whenever I’d get bogged down, I would think of my family and how I wanted to turn my life around for them. Making it to graduation was the best feeling ever; like I had finally done something right. I graduated with honors. I had been motivated by all the people who had helped me along the way, and I wanted to make them proud.

I got into L.A. City College and continued my relationship with Fulfillment Fund through my College Success Advisor, Olivia. She’s been such an important person in my life. While I have been in college, I am still dealing with the legal fallout of my actions and she’s been my rock. I don’t think I have ever told her this, but Olivia has been EVERYTHING TO ME. She’s kept me on track to graduate from community college and through my transfer. She helped me with my personal statement and constant check-ins, financial aid, and even wrote a letter to the judge on my behalf. I got into all the schools I applied to and this gave me confidence and showed me I could rewrite my story. I got an A.A. in psychology with honors and discovered I wanted to give back to my community and help others going through hard times.

From the bottom of my heart, I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Fulfillment Fund and everyone who is involved. I never once felt judged by anyone, the conversations were always inspiring, and stayed focused on the opportunities I could reach. I have gotten a very strong sense of community and belonging from Fulfillment Fund.

I am also a new dad now, and staying in school has become more important than ever. I want to be a role model for my son, my sister, and others in my community who may think they are out of options. I am currently at CSU Fullerton and am on track to graduate in May 2024. After this, I hope to get my masters in social work so that I can help troubled youth. I want to assist others the same way I was, and Fulfillment Fund has helped me get closer to achieving this dream. I am grateful for the kindness and support I have been given, and I am thankful to you, the reader, for being a part of this amazing community. I hope that sharing my story will inspire you to continue supporting Fulfillment Fund and first-generation students like myself, and more importantly, to tell others how they are truly helping to make a difference.

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