This is a big weekend for 31-year-old Kyle Gathers. He'll be graduating from the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston and he'll be among those addressing his class.
That's a big deal for anyone, but here's what makes it especially remarkable for Gathers: He'll be doing this just one year after leaving prison.
In all, he spent 10 years in prison, including two years in solitary confinement, for extortion and witness intimidation, before he was released last June.
While in solitary, Gathers began writing poetry, and hopes to publish his book of poems, which he calls "Feelings They Couldn't Lock Away."
Kyle Gathers, student at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
On how it feels to be graduating
"I am still juggling with the feeling now. I guess I'm kind of numb to it. It's a big surprise, it's a great honor and I'm just happy to be here and be able to get up there in front of all my fellow students and classmates."
On what Gathers did to get into prison
"What landed me there is that the environment I grew up in was always centered around everything negative. All the role models that I had growing up were good role models in their own right, but they was engaged in negative activity. So, early on, my biggest challenge was financial security. So at that time I felt as though anything to be able to get a financial gain up was OK. And I had to wrestle with that idea and I thought it was OK.
"...today I want to use my influence in a positive way to change another kid's life before he follows in the footsteps of my prior ways."Kyle Gathers
And so it led to me selling drugs and being in the drug world, a lot of other negative things come behind that. So you make one choice to say "I need money" and you go onto another choice to say "I must sell drugs to make it" and you don't know that, when you do so, you run into so many other other dark alleys that come in that.
So I ended up looking out for a friend of mine and giving him some drugs and he felt as though he didn't want to pay me back. And I felt as though it was OK for me to take matters in my own hands and go back and inconvenience him by taking things that would've added up to my value on the drugs. And it was silly, it was foolish and it landed me in prison."
On what it's like to spend two years in solitary confinement
"Well, [it's] quiet. You're in a cell by yourself. You come out one hour a day, you come out one hour a day inside of a little cage that you can just walk back and forth in. You get three showers a week. You get four phone calls a month after being there four months. So you can just imagine that all of the relationships that I had had, you know, wavered. Everyone went their own way. So I was just left in the end. I went through that for two years."
On how Gathers mentally survived solitary:
"Well, of course, a lot of questions go through your head. 'This is designed to break me: Who am I? What do I really want for myself in life? If I get back to population, what am I going [to] not do in the future to not ever get here? What can I do that I'm here, and how can I think about myself while I'm here, to benefit me when I am released out of here and outside of solitary confinement?'
"...through reading and writing, it made me forget where I was actually at and it helped me cope."Kyle Gathers
So in order to get through that, being in that cell for just 23 hours to yourself, really no other social interaction because everyone else is out there trying to sleep their time away or they just don't want to be bothered because they're mad — I started to write all my feelings down. I didn't have enough phone conversations or phone time to share it. So I wrote it down.
I sat there and I thought about everything in my life: all the love that I had for others, love that I had for myself. How did I view my surroundings? What actually made me happy when I was there? Because a lot of the times just thinking about my happy times helped me get through. I had to forget where I was at. And through reading and writing, it made me forget where I was actually at and it helped me cope."
On what Gathers will tell his fellow graduates during his speech
"Basically, I'm going to let them know that their work isn't done. That they still inspire other kids that may not be theirs that still look up to them. So basically it's on them to always exercise their best knowledge of self and exercise their best role model of themselves because they don't know who's watching. And that was the case for me."
On if Gathers views the crimes he committed differently now
"Yes. I wrote extensively about, you know, all the pains that I've hurt on others, and I experienced a pain myself before I was released. My brother was killed in Dorchester. Getting that experience so close to home, and knowing that some of my influence while he was watching me as I grew older and he grew older, that he followed in my footsteps and it ultimately cost him more than it cost me. So now today I want to use my influence in a positive way to change another kid's life before he follows in the footsteps of my prior ways."
This article was originally published on May 12, 2017.
This segment aired on May 12, 2017.