Randy Kearse, a reentry specialist, author, and motivational speaker, has partnered with Edovo to create courses for our incarcerated users. Randy spent 15 years in federal prison, and has used that experience to inform the public about the challenges that those returning face, and to inspire others returning from incarceration.
Randy's video series "Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole" follows formerly incarcerated men and women who have been successful post-release, and provides tangible skills and actions for those currently incarcerated to adopt. The Edovo team has developed a series of lessons for learners to reflect on their decisions, and helps them to plan for their lives as returning citizens.
Edovo sat down with Randy recently to talk about his work, and our partnership.
Randy, tell us a little about yourself.
I am an author; I have written five books and two workbooks focused on reentry. I believe that given the proper tools and resources, people in prison can become productive citizens in society. I founded Reentry Strategies to help achieve that mission. I also create media content; books, films, programs, and workshops to help men and women successfully transition from prison back to their families, communities and society.
I have spent my career helping others who have been incarcerated succeed. As someone who spent a large part of his life in and out of the prison, I know the challenges men and women face during and after their incarceration. I saw many men return to prison while I was completing my fifteen year sentence, and that reality propelled me to become almost obsessed with succeeding once I got out. Once released, I decided to live my life as an example to those who would come behind me, and show them that success was attainable after incarceration.
What led you to spending fifteen years in federal prison?
I was convicted of a federal drug conspiracy.
My story is not the typical story you may hear about how someone wound up in prison. I had all the opportunity in the world, I grew up in a two-parent household, with loving parents who taught me strong morals and values. Unfortunately, I became influenced by things I was seeing in the street, and lost sight of what I was being taught at home. Life on the streets was more exciting and immediately gratifying.
At the time, I could rationalize how I got to prison and accepted it as a normal part of life. But there isn't anything normal about prison. Many people say we are a product of our environment, but I say we are a product of our choices. I made some bad choices. When I reflected on what was instilled in me from a young age, I was able to rebuild my life, in prison and upon release, using those values.
The stories we read and images we see, they don't fully represent what type of people are incarcerated; there isn't one story that fits every individual. There are more than 2.3 million people incarcerated right now, with 2.3 million stories.
What did you do while in prison to pass the time?
I used my time in a way that would serve me best when I was released. Unfortunately, the programs inside were limited, and seemed more to me as a way to pass the time than a way to achieve my goals. For example, I knew I did not want to be a barber or participate in arts and crafts.
Instead, I took facility jobs to learn things on my own, and spent most of my free time in the prison library. I read everything I could about how to start my own business and how to publish a book. I asked friends and family to send other books and printed-out Internet searches on things that interested me.
For me, prison was just an experience. Yes, it was an unfortunate one, but I decided it was an experience that would not dictate how I would spend the rest of my life. I always say, it's not how much time you do, but what you do with the time. Days and months are still happening when you are incarcerated, and I had to find ways to keep up with the outside world and continue to grow.
How hard was it for you to rebuild your life after prison?
I had to start from scratch. I was lucky to stay with my younger brother, and worked a minimum wage job as a messenger for 10 hours a day for a year and a half, then bought a van and drove for messenger company for another two and a half years. During this time, I began to execute on my plan to publish books I had written while in prison. I shopped my first book Street Talk: Da Official Guide to Hip-Hop & Urban Slanguage and landed a publishing deal.
Even though I was physically free, my sentence included 10 years of supervised release. I completed that condition a few months ago without a single violation. I didn't come home mad at the world; I came home and wanted to build something. I knew I had to be patient, respect the process and create a foundation outside of prison. I also wanted to live my life as an example to others coming home as returning citizens.
Since that initial book, I've written four more books, been featured in The New York Times and "The Colbert Report," directed a film, and spoken to hundreds about my story. Now, people really are looking to me to see if I am living out my message; I'm blessed that people are counting on me and taking my lead.
What about Edovo made you reach out?
When I first heard about Edovo, and the idea of tablets in prisons, I said "Tablets in prison?! No way!" I was amazed at this idea, and reached out after I had created my web series about reentry, "Beyond Prison, Probation, and Parole." This series follows men and women who used their time while incarcerated to reflect and make positive changes in their lives, and who have since returned to their communities.
I approached Edovo about bringing my series to their platform because when I was incarcerated, I saw first-hand the disconnect between the programming offered and the users. Often, the people who developed the courses didn't understand the experiences of their incarcerated students. I wanted to connect people currently in jail or prison with real-world examples of those who have been in their shoes and are now succeeding as returning citizens.
We wonder why people are coming back to correctional facilities, and it's because they aren't getting the tools they need. Through Edovo, I saw that my series could reach thousands of users who could relate to the individual stories, and could then make positive changes for themselves.
You are a big advocate of technology in corrections. Why do you think having access to technology is so valuable?
I read everything I could while incarcerated so that I could stay connected to the outside world — I would collect newspapers and magazines from other inmates, and absorbed everything I could. I even learned about the Internet for the first time through reading an article.
When I came home, my mother gave me her old computer and within a week I had mastered the essentials. Like almost everyone else, I use the Internet all the time now: to learn new things on YouTube, to promote my business, and to stay in touch with people across the country.
Technology in prison and jail will help men and women properly prepare to reenter society at a competitive level. Bringing tablets in with resources like Edovo and my series not only gives people great content to utilize while incarcerated, but also technical skills.
How would having Edovo have changed your time while incarcerated?
I had to be incredibly self-motivated to learn the skills I wanted to learn while incarcerated. Edovo would have helped me tremendously in reaching my goals and accessing the knowledge I was seeking.
Because of this, my approach in creating this series was to cater to the needs and interests I had while incarcerated. I asked myself "Would I like this? Would I use this? What would I gravitate toward?"
From working closely with the Edovo team, it's clear that they aren't just throwing any class on the tablet. The team is choosing content that can be impactful and useful to those inside, rather than just having tablets with video games or classes that aren't accessible to incarcerated users. If Edovo had existed when I was in federal prison, I would have used the tablet all the time.
What would you say to county and state administrators deciding if they should bring Edovo to their facilities?
I'd say that if we are serious about helping people return to their communities, we have to provide them with the tools to be successful. For all those incarcerated, especially those without a support system or strong educational background, Edovo can help fill that gap and reach them. It allows users to build a long-term relationship with diverse coursework, and prepare to reenter to society ready to face challenges and compete in society.
I encourage facilities to give Edovo a try; the secure technology and content really can transform a facility and an individual.
To learn more about Randy Kearse or his company Reentry Strategies, visit his website.