An Open Letter to my Favorite History Teacher

Subject: An Open Letter to my Favorite History Teacher
From: Allison
Date: 12 Mar 2021

To Ms. Robison,

I remember one of the last times you would ever instruct us in person. You sat us down and told us how sheltered and unknowing we were and that we wouldn’t realize this until we left the “Cupertino bubble.” You told us that we lacked empathy and that we only cared about classes such as “AP Biology” or “AP Calculus BC” even though they would be entirely irrelevant in adulthood. You commanded us to think, to really think–not just memorize SAT words and regurgitate them onto paper.

At the time, I didn’t think much about your words. I continued to think only for my own interest, I continued to study for “important” classes and mentally ditch the “unimportant” ones, and I continued to stay sheltered. However, as time went on, I became more and more exposed to people similar to you–people urging for change. I grew more interested in participating in world discussions instead of scrolling past them on social media, but I struggled to figure out how. Eventually, a medium came along which I could present my thoughts through: an English paper.

In my English class, we were instructed to research a real world issue and present it. Naturally, I had no idea what I wanted to write about. However, as the brainstorming deadline neared, I chose a topic I had never really heard of: recidivism–that is, the tendency for a former offender to reoffend. I wanted to analyze the psychological or emotional issues that ex-offenders experienced post-release. In the end, I wrote about four different factors contributing to recidivism, all of which falling under societal and psychological issues. Additionally, I wanted to determine whether those factors existed due to faults in the system or faults in the former offenders.

A few things inspired me to write about recidivism: an old memory of a middle school teacher rambling on about crime stories she heard on the news, a man who did 44 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (his name was Ronnie Long), and you. Sure, you didn’t explicitly tell me to write a 20-page essay on the high recidivism rates in America, but you opened my eyes to our imperfect world. You reminded the Class of 2020 that if we were to become successful members of society, we had to question why our world is the way it is. We had to understand that the world has issues and these issues cannot be solved without acknowledgement and discussion. With my essay titled “The Societal and Psychological Issues Behind Recidivism in America,” I hoped to contribute to a conversation which needs to be made.

I discussed four factors in my essay (the public’s perception, employment, loss of voting rights, and self-forgiveness) in hopes of determining who exactly was at fault for America’s high recidivism rates. While much of my evidence pointed toward the system being at fault, I realized it was unrealistic to entirely blame policy and financial aid for not being present during the reintegration process (the process of reintegrating into society post-release) when, in reality, the public had a role in this issue.

When people need assistance but are silenced due to their criminal record, we need to advocate for them (not to be confused with talking over them, belittling their issues, or ignoring their existence). We cannot rely on the system to fix itself; after all, the wellbeing and success stories of former offenders are generally not on a politician’s agenda. However, this does not mean that nothing can be done to reverse the climbing recidivism rates. If we, the public, could stop for a second and understand, I mean really understand, perspectives that are unfamiliar with our own; if we, the public, questioned politicians and their motives, instead of swaying left and right due to premature opinions and beliefs; if we, the public, opened our ears and hearts for our peers, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

If you gave me the same prompt 2 years ago, I doubt I would’ve written about something as remotely serious as this (I probably would have written about my plant hobby and its therapeutic properties), as I have a hard time creating my own opinion on an uncomfortable topic like this. Regardless, I am glad to say that your words did get through me, Ms. Robison, and I hope to educate myself more on the imperfect world around me in the foreseeable future.

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo