“Prison forced me to be still and start my mental metamorphosis."
In Jy’aire Smith-Pennick’s essay, “How I Went From Gangster to Geek,” he describes how prison forced him to be still, and in that stillness, Smith-Pennick experienced a “mental metamorphosis”.
Based on your background knowledge on metamorphosis, make a prediction about what a “mental metamorphosis” might entail. Note your prediction below.
Read to find out how gun violence influenced Smith-Pennick’s mindset and ultimately his actions.
Moreover, read to learn how being imprisoned and sitting in silence led to Jy’ aire’s mental metamorphosis and how that transformed him.
- Even though prison supported Jy’Aire’s transformation, he is not advocating for prisons. What do you think Jy’Aire’s main message is?
- Smith-Pennick says that “I began to see the trap I was living in for most of my life for what it was.” How would you describe the trap that he was living in? Why was this trap so hard for him to see?
- In his essay, Smith-Pennick says, “But prison didn’t change me; I transformed myself.” How did his time in prison factor into his self-transformation? More generally, how might our setting or environment play a role in our ability to transform ourselves?
- In going from “a gangster to a geek overnight,” how does Smith-Pennick challenge dominant ideologies about incarcerated people? About education?
As you reflect upon this last question, think about the insights that you took from Smith-Pennick’s essay. Through this essay, we—the authors—began to think more about prison reform and the relationship between incarceration and education. We also questioned our own assumptions about these topics. Smith-Pennick clearly has many lessons to teach us. Consider for a moment – do we typically expect incarcerated individuals to take on the role of teachers? In general, who do we expect to learn from and why? What and whom might be overlooked within this narrow lens? In many ways, Smith-Pennick challenges our own ideologies.