Frank Baca, 47, has been in prison 28 years, serving a life sentence. He spent his 21st birthday in San Quentin and six years in the SHU (Security Housing Unit, pronounced "shoe") at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California.
Baca said it wasn't until he came to Donovan eight years ago that he realized he had to change his negativity. This, despite the harsh reality that he will in all likelihood not see the outside world again.
At Donovan, he renounced his ties to the Nuestra Familia prison gang and began taking anger-management classes.
This path eventually led him to the GED courses. "My early years in prison were a waste of human productivity," Baca said. "This yard has been a blessing to me. In all my 28 years in prison, nowhere else has offered these types of programs."
Buoyed by earning his GED, Baca immediately enrolled in the satellite college program offered through Coastline Community College. In addition to general studies, he will take a behavioral science class and hopes to apply it to counseling troubled youth - in prison or out.
The GED grads who take college courses do so at their own expense. They pay for their own textbooks - which they often share with each other - from the 19-to 29-cents-an-hour salary they get working in the prison bakery, laundry, optical lens factory or other prison employ.
Baca also hopes his efforts will not go unrecognized by the prison board, but more importantly, by his loved ones.
"I knew I had to take the initiative for my family and myself," he said. "Success in education changes people. It changed me. I feel the confidence, the pride, the motivation."
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