I was roughly one of 70,000 fortunate children adopted throughout the United States in 1969 (A notable booming year according to Historical International adoption data). Adding to my good fortune was landing with a set of parents who were both exceptional and unique.

Disregard what an Alexa inquiry might tell you, Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie were not the first to assemble families of mixed races. In fact, my parents were essentially forerunners in the art of raising an unconventional family of different backgrounds and temperaments.

With savvy discernment of parenting a diverse gaggle of humanity on the heels of a very complicated period, they fully took advantage of the 70s and 80s. They injected us with a steady diet of character enrichments, where they could: reputable schools, a Volvo wagon, scouts, piano lessons, track, swimming, and camping vacations to Hoffmaster State Park. Over the years, my folks dabbled in several successful businesses. They spent the majority of their careers in photography (operating Hicks’ Studio for 25 years). As a prominent Lansing area professional photographer, my father (A U.S Navy World War II Vet) snapped countless family portraits, weddings, and senior pictures. One noteworthy client was the former first family of Michigan, the Romneys.

I was labeled learning disabled and emotionally impaired by the Ingham County School System for the duration of my Kindergarten through 12th-grade academic history. My school years were a hodge-podge of undifferentiated special education programming, behavior issues, and not really feeling a part of the mainstream student body. Combine the above challenges and behavior issues, and difficulties with the defiant teen years (underlying forces not completely accessible to me at the time). In my case, it took on the form of impetuous short-sighted decisions, heedless impulsivity, and a cavalier attitude- a potent blend of adolescent dynamics I would further cede to on December 13, 1987.

I had made a deal with two other young men to help give them information on the restaurant I worked at, in exchange for a cut of what they stole. I thought they would simply come in, take the money, and leave. However, they panicked and ended up killing two people. I was arrested along with the two of them, as their accomplice. Green to the judicial process, I offered very little value to my own defense. Unsurprisingly, I was swiftly convicted. At the age of 19, I was sentenced to a pair of mandatory life sentences without parole terms.

I had troublesome conduct as a teen, but my three-decade-plus incarceration journey has been a complete and polar opposite. This is credited to the natural maturity process, my family’s influences and the small-town environment I was exposed to. It eventually worked it’s way back to me, allowing me to ascend to a healthier place. A place where empathy, compassion, and heightened care for others as well as the world around me, are an infused, baked-in part of my inward character. My prison record and self-improvement endeavors are a reflection of the person I have become. I am a Dean’s List Jackson College Student. I am a model prisoner, with many trusted roles. I am also currently employed by Michigan Braille Transcription Fund as a Tactile Graphic Artist.

I have transformed into a person with a profound sense of remorse, contrition, and purpose. It hasn’t been lost on me that sincere atonement in the case where a precious life has been taken, can only manifest in the following fashion: always be the best version of me, mentor and share my testimony with at-risk youths, commit to volunteer work, never lose sight that I have an extraordinary responsibility to make a bigger-than-myself impact on all my pursuits. And perpetually pair those interactions with compassion and kindness.