School is back in session for most students and one Bakersfield College group is making the transition back into student life for formally incarcerated students much easier.
It wasn't always a smooth road for James Thompkins, but after serving time in jail he chose to make a change for the better, "Right now I am currently serving as the Bakersfield College Student Government Class President," Thompkins said.
Thompkins stepped into his new role as the student body president this summer and this will be his first semester in his new role. However, this will also be his second year as a formally incarcerated student on campus, “Most of my crimes were drug related, petty thefts, sales and that nature. Ultimately just revolving around addiction," Thompkins said.
Thompkins has been sober for over five years and is currently working towards a degree in phycology but he said returning to class wasn't easy, "When you walk on campus the very first thing that popped into my head is that everybody knows, everybody knows that I don't belong here, like this isn't a space for me."
However, his journey quickly gained momentum when he found that students and faculty didn't care about his past, "They aren't worried about anything else, all they want to do is teach you, that’s all they want to do. If your willing to learn that's all they want to do and that's what they want to push for," Thompkins said.
According to Thompkins, with the support of faculty and his peers he was motivated to do more for others dealing with the same uncertainty. He decided to create a place for formally incarcerated students to convene on campus, "Now that's what really Free on the Outside is all about. It’s kind of creating that space between us students, between us so that we can come to campus and know that's going to be one of our folks. One of our people to kind of guide us around campus and show us what's going on, know the in's and outs and have someone who has already gone through that scarv portion of it. So that hopefully no one else has to deal with that."
According to Thompkins the Free on the Outside team is are already making strides. Many members have plans to get more people involved, including professors who can talk to men and women in detention facilities about the resources available on campus, if they decide to pursue their education. The group also conducts outreach to sober living homes and communicates with Kern County Probation to get more people like Thompkins and Alexander Arreole involved in a positive future, surrounded with education. “It's overwhelming to say what this group has meant for me because it's provided me a platform to be able to transition into school culture and just getting acclimated," first year member of Free on the Outside team Alexander Arreole said.
Thompkins said he just hopes the group will motivate other formally incarcerated people in Kern County to go back to school too, "You just have to be willing to kind of step out in front of everybody and just go for it."
If you are contemplating heading back to school and or are interested in the Free on the Outside group you can email Thompkins at firstname.lastname@example.org