Mychal's Story: Helping others find the path to higher ed
"It's over Mychal," were the last words Mychal Goode, a UWT Finance Major, heard over the phone before his life changed forever. The next call he received was from the cops, telling him that they had his house surrounded. After explaining to his mom what was going on Mychal stepped outside to be arrested. At just seventeen years old, he was convicted of a first degree felony and sentenced to five years in prison.
Goode was raised on Tacoma's Eastside, by a single mother who had run away from an abusive relationship. Her paranoia over Mychal's father finding him and his sister kept her from enrolling them in school, so they were homeschooled until Mychal was sixteen, and his mother reached the limit of her ability to teach them.
At this point, he and his sister began doing their own thing, instead of going to school. His sister started doing drugs, and got involved with a guy named Nathan. Searching for someone to look up to, a father figure, Mychal began hanging out with the wrong crowd, especially Nathan.
In order to fit in, Mychal was willing to do anything Nathan asked, and agreed to help his sister's boyfriend rob his ex-girlfriend's house. The pair broke into the house, tied up the family at gunpoint and robbed them. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the people recognized Nathan. Undercover cops caught him the next day, and he turned in Mychal.
It was Nathan's voice over that phone telling Mychal that it was "over." Mychal described the way he felt at that moment as "kind of happy." Already he had felt that his life wasn't going anywhere.
Still, he says, "Everything was flipped upside down." The guy he had most looked up to had just betrayed him, and suddenly he was alone for the first time. With no money for an attorney, he was sent to Walla Walla Correctional Facility.
"You have two options when you go to prison," Mychal explained. "One, you can get better at being worse, or you can realize that what you were doing is wrong, and find another option."
Mychal chose the latter. Within a few months he got his GED, but where to go from there? The answer came when he was 20, and had to take an anger management class for getting into a fight. A representative from Walla Walla Community College came and told them about the FAFSA, and how it made college possible.
Mychal, who had until then believed that college was for the smart and rich, went up to the guy after the class, and asked for the form that he had showed them. Reluctant to give it to him, the representative finally gave in and let Mychal take it. He went back to his cell, and hung it on the wall next to the pictures of his family.
"I still have the form," he laughed, "someday I'm gonna put it in a case or something."
For the rest of his sentence he told anyone who would listen that he was going to college when he got out. Just after his 21st birthday he was released. Excited and nervous he took the Greyhound back to the Eastside, only to find that in the four years he had been gone, nothing had changed. His sister was doing even worse drugs, and his friends were still doing the same bad things they had been doing before.
Mychal walked to the public library, FAFSA form in hand, ready to start a new life, one with direction. When he asked the librarian if she could help him fill out the form she told him to Google it.
"What's Google?" was his next question.
The librarian helped him find the number for the Educational Opportunity Center, and he went home to call them. A man named Scott Sealy helped him fill out the FAFSA, and he enrolled in TCC. It was his first time in a classroom. There, he earned his Associates in Business, before applying to UWT. This year he will graduate with a Bachelor's in Finance.
Getting a job was another hurdle on the road to success. After about twenty refusals, he finally got a job at McDonald's however they wouldn't let him near the cash register. Part of his financial aid at TCC was work study, and thanks to a woman named Wendy Hinand, he got a job as the Outreach Student Assistant giving campus tours and talking to high school students about financial aid.
Wendy took a chance with him, agreeing to give him an opportunity despite his past. She remained patient with him, teaching him what he needed to know, and helping him fix his mistakes instead of being frustrated with his lack of knowledge. He calls her his first mentor, and as a result of her help he was awarded "most outstanding student employee of the year."
Now he works at the YMCA, and talks at the Department of Corrections about higher education after prison. His passion for the plight of inmates, for whom education is rarely seen as an option, is evident whenever he starts talking about it.
"Education changed everything. I'm nothing like the person I was before," he said.
But education is hardly accessible to prisoners, not because they can't do it, but because it is rarely presented as an option. While training for trade vocations, or manual labor is provided, only once in four years did Mychal hear about college.
Washington State has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country, at 67.5%; 70% for robbery felons. This can mostly be attributed to the lack of options offered to those who get out. Even with a degree, getting a job has been hard for Mychal, and probably will be in the future as well.
"You have to humble yourself," is the biggest piece of advice that Mychal would give to someone who is in the same position that he was in just a few years ago.
Sometimes it's hard to admit that the way you're living is wrong, and to ask for help, which is why many felons go back to prison time after time, basically getting stuck in an endless cycle for the rest of their lives. The four best friends that Mychal still keeps in touch with from his past are all in prison now. The rest of them, who he sees occasionally around Tacoma are all working low-end jobs, and have kids.
Someday Mychal wants to work for a non-profit. He hopes to figure out how to help people with little money learn how to better use their money, especially those on food stamps. That or joining the army are his future plans, however someday he plans to go to law school.
Having a past, especially one like Mychal's, means facing a lot of challenges in life, but he's prepared. "Do today what others won't, so tomorrow I have what others don't," is something he has said to keep himself motivated.
"There's always more you can do," he said, of succeeding in life. And it's true. With the right attitude, work ethic, and goals you can accomplish things if you, like Mychal, don't give up.
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