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Ex-Prisoner Returns To The Streets, Teaches Troubled Youth

This article is more than 11 years old.

After a chance meeting in prison that turned his life around, one Massachusetts college student says his background would help him connect with troubled young people.

"I want to work with the bad kids. I want to work with the kids that's like, being suspended and talking back to their mothers, and disrespectful to their household, and just in the streets, hard," said 29-year-old Rahshjeem Benson, who we met at the recreation center at his school, Massachusetts Bay Community College, in Wellesley.

Rahshjeem Benson (Deborah Becker/WBUR)
Rahshjeem Benson (Deborah Becker/WBUR)

Benson spends a lot of time here at the rec center as an employee and, at 6-foot-9, practicing with the Mass Bay basketball team. Juggling the team, the job, being a full-time student and his wife and two young children can be hectic — but he doesn't mind.

"I'd rather be on this side of the wall than the other side," he said. "I'll go through this, because there's a lot of men that was in my old situation that'll go through what I'm going through and more."

That other side of the wall, of course, was prison. Last year, Benson completed an almost four-year sentence for drug trafficking.

"It's just like an addiction. Selling drugs is addiction. Money is addiction," Benson said. "Just like a user that needs drugs to survive. I never was addicted to drugs. I don't like drugs, I don't do drugs. I was addicted to money."

But a chance meeting in prison helped Benson break that addiction.

"I ended up meeting this man by the name of Arnie King," he said.

King went to prison four decades ago, at age 18, to serve a life sentence for murder. He's now 59 years old, and he's earned a master's degree and works to help young inmates like Benson.

"Possibly not ever being able to get out in society, and put his goodwill to use, I feel that it's my obligation to do something good with my chance of being free again for the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth time."

And now Benson has met with Gov. Deval Patrick's staff to talk about possibly working with kids who were just like he was once.

"I'll be able to relate to them on a street level, that somebody that went and got their Ph.D. in social work or whatever wouldn't be able to reach them," Benson said. "I could talk about certain things that they'll be like, 'He's hip. He knows what's going on,' than somebody that's just dealing with it through the books. It's powerful when you can do that. For a man, I believe, to come from incarceration, turn his life around, do a 180, not a 360. Do a 180, and then be able to give back to the people, the kids that's in his community and let them know, like, you can talk to people, you can share your thoughts with people, you can be yourself."

Benson is now a sophomore and plans to transfer to a four-year school this fall to get a bachelor's degree.

This program aired on April 27, 2012.


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