Gina Castillo Delivers Keynote Speech at WCCW Graduation Ceremony
On Saturday, June 16, Civil Survival Board Member Gina Castillo, a formerly incarcerated college graduate, gave the keynote address at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where 12 women earned college degrees and changed the direction of their lives. The uplifting event was attended by friends, family, DOC staff and members of the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS), among others.
FEPPS is a nonprofit organization that provides a challenging college curriculum to incarcerated women with classes taught by professors from the University of Washington, University of Puget Sound and other area colleges. Ms. Castillo explained that the WCCW program began back in 2012 when a few women got together and created The Village. The women knew that education was key. They spoke to her about how hard it was to take the chance on themselves when they were told that with a 7 year or longer sentence their choices for spending their time productively were extremely limited.
These women took classes through for years that were unaccredited and encouraged others to do the same because they realized the transformative power of learning. They talked about how their conversations went from superficial topics to discussing neoliberalism and how to format papers. They described how they were able to come into the classroom with people that they normally would not get along with and were able to “leave it at the door” while they engaged in meaningful debate and dialogue.
Ms. Castillo’s speech honored their hard work and commitment while highlighting the transformative power of education for their lives and their communities:
Each of you have shown by your actions and your perseverance—that you have realized that at some point, you have lacked either the perception, or reality, of choice in a way that mattered to your self-worth and your seeds of dreams.
The act of gaining knowledge has transformative power in that it helps us to overcome lack of choice and offers a hook for change.
No doubt you have already begun to feel yourself get smarter. As we learn how to think and how to critically evaluate, we learn too how to act in ways that make space for choice to exist in our lives. As you continue to overcome your personal traumas, and triumph, realize that they have enabled you to evolve into a strong and empathetic individual. Let your personal experiences informed by your education lead to a profound sense of reflection over all aspects of your life. You have experienced a vast array of people with differing characteristics and perspectives and your education combined with your experience will give you the ability to look past initial misconceptions and stereotypes (whether you are dealing with peers or those in a place of power and authority) so that you can fully appreciate your own strength of character. Each of you has become a hero for yourselves, each other and each and every person that has watched your journey. The gifts of what you have begun will not always be immediately apparent, so keep vigilant.
The path upon which you have embarked will continue to be an enlightening one. If you stay on this journey, it will enable you, empower you, to have an open-minded and analytical approach to functioning in whatever space you find yourself in. We have chosen a new way of life.
Civil Survival applauds the new graduates and all of their accomplishments.