Yes, I went to prison

Sure, I love serving those in the community whom need help… So do so many other people! Like I mentioned in previous blogs, I enjoy using my passion and charisma in order to maximize the impact of my service; however, my personality is definitely not the only definitive characteristic of my service. I like to be bold and take risks; I mean serious, potentially life changing risks.

When I was little, I was not the same perfect, infallible human being that I am today. In fact, on weekend trips to Pennsylvania, where a lot of my family lives, my parents would stop by the local “bad boys’ home” for me to absorb its appealing sight. My parents would say, “Hen, if you keep getting yelled at in school, you’re going to end up behind those barb wires.” I still remember looking in fear at the mountainous fences, razor sharp wires, and dreary buildings thinking, “Man, I’m going to be a good boy from now on!” I mean who wants to go to prison? I don’t know about you, but I always wanted to stay as far away as possible from them!

Well, sometimes, things don’t work out as planned. In my junior year of high school, I entered New York City’s infamous Rikers Island Correctional Facility. A simple google search shows that the prison is one of the most dangerous prisons in the country, but unfortunate Henry, not listening to his parents, found himself walking through the gated hallways of that very same prison with a bag of underwear over his shoulder and an admit card in his hand…

Being escorted by several guards, my peers and I entered a large cinderblock walled room, and laid our supplies down on a series of tables. We organized the clothing by size and waited for further instruction. Out of nowhere, we heard a loud siren proceeded by the clash of a metal gate, and I will never forget looking at my teacher in utter fear. The inmates entered the room without handcuffs and the only thing separating us from them were a handful of guards and plastic tables, and in a few minutes that simple line of defense would seem like a whole lot. My teacher gave me the queue, and I walked up to the inmates and introduced our group: Regis and Rikers.

The basis of the project was to extend service to the imprisoned and incarcerated, but more importantly, to spread awareness of the many imperfections of the United States Criminal Justice System. Now, you may ask, “Why a do you care about people that rape, murder, and pillage? Why not direct your service at those whom deserve it, such as the sick?” I thought the same thing for most of my life.

People forget that “criminals,” whether they or guilty or not, are human beings, and that simple fact should mean enough for people to care about them. I will not get into the specific problems regarding this country’s criminal justice system in this blog post; however, if you are reading this, I ask you to start thinking about a few things… First, does early childhood living conditions and development play a role in future behavior? Second, how does the current state of the criminal justice system ensure justice, if it even focuses on justice at all? Third, what could a student led service organization possibly do to bring meaningful change?



Serve with Your Tongue Out


When I loved to play baseball, oh man, did I show it. You know in grammar school when you’re playing a sport, whether that be soccer, football, or softball, and your coach asks you to cheer for your teammates, well, I had the opposite problem. My coaches used to tell me to quiet down and relax.

When I began to get heavily involved in regular service, I developed a strong desire to help those in need; however, I was not yet sure how I could make an impact that would be different than everyone else. I mean, for the most part, anyone could fill a cup of soup, collect money, or stock shelves. So, I was left with the question: how can I really make a difference?

I don’t mean to say that I simply wanted to be the center of attention in the service that I did, instead, I wanted to stand out in terms of the result of my service. Take the picture below as an example.






Yes, that is me embarrassing myself on the dance floor with elementary school children. Yes, all the attention is radiated around me. Yes, I look so extra and maybe a little strange. But besides those things, you have to think about what I am doing. The picture was taken during a visit to an elementary school in East Harlem, New York. The kids in the picture primarily come from low income families, and it was my service club’s idea to provide the children with a Christmas Celebration– who knows if their families can give them the same Christmas experience that most of us know and love. Originally, it was our idea to simply hand out candy and color books with the children, but I was having no part in that. If we were going to party, we were going party!

So, yes, I dressed up as Santa and looked ridiculous, but at the end of the day, my group and I held an amazing dance party and the kids were not able to stop smiling or dancing. I know that the kids had a tremendous amount of fun, and I would like to think that my character and my passion to stand out played a role in maximizing our impact on the children.

Now that I have been actively engaged in service for several years, I have grown to love the reward of putting a smile on a person’s face. I have been able to make an impact on communities of suffering ranging from prison inmates trying desperately to reform their lives to patients in hospitals fighting for a few extra days to be with their families.

The work that I have done is not plugged into a stat sheet, like it was in my previous days playing baseball, but I’d like to think life is more than just the “stats.” There’s nothing better than doing something you love and knowing that you can be yourself every step of the way.