An exclusive private school and a California prison are an unlikely pair. But when Palma School, a prep school out of Salinas, California teamed up with Soledad State Prison’s Correctional Training Facility (CTF) to create a book club, the combination led to a heartwarming act of kindness.
Palma School initiated the book club with Soledad’s inmates in hopes of “bringing the two groups together to learn and develop a greater understanding of one another,” according to an article by CNN. And while this was a wonderful mission to begin with, what actually took place was so much more!
According to the creator of the reading program, Jim Michelleti, after the book club had been running a while, some inmates reached out to him. “They said, ‘We value you guys coming in. We’d like to do something for your school … can you find us a student on campus who needs some money to attend Palma?’”
As it turns out, the Soledad prisoners had worked together to raise over $30,000 to create a scholarship for a Palma School student. And just in time, it would seem, as student Sy Green was struggling to pay his monthly tuition due to financial issues after his parents needed some emergency medical procedures.
Sy’s parents worked hard to put Sy through private school in hopes of steering him towards a good education and away from the drugs and gangs that were running rampant in his local public school. However, their ability to cover the cost of Palma School was at stake after Sy’s father, Frank Green, had to pay for heart surgery. Upon learning Sy would receive the scholarship, his father was “brought to tears,” telling CNN, “At that particular time, it was truly a blessing. It was unheard of.”
What’s more impressive is that the money raised came from inside the prison walls, meaning that inmates donated what little they had in order to pay it forward and have a meaningful impact on a young student’s life.
CNN really put things into perspective in their article when they explained, “Considering that minimum wage in prison can be as low as 8 cents an hour, raising $30,000 is an astonishing feat. It can take a full day of hard labor to make a dollar inside prison, so every cent donated by inmates is worth a lot more than a penny in the free world. Some brothers in blue who had no money to donate even hustled to sell possessions or food so they could be a part of the campaign.”
The inmates’ kindness and generosity built the bridge that has fostered a beautiful relationship with Sy and his family. Sy has continued to visit the prison outside of the book club, inviting mentorship and accountability from the inmates as he navigates his goals, dreams, and life in general. The relationship has been mutually beneficial, as these men have now been presented with the opportunity to be a role model. Some former inmates even made a point to go see Sy graduate high school!
When speaking with CNN, Sy told them that “knowing hundreds of men made sacrifices for his education inspires him to try his best and work hard every day.”