Jimmy Wu’s Journey: New Beginnings
In 1997, when I was 17 years old, I was asked by Sister Janet Harris to attend an innovative creative writing class in Unit K/L at Central Juvenile Hall. I had no real interest in creative writing nor did I have any expectations. I simply agreed to her request so that I could spend more time out of my room. Little did I know that my life was about to be changed forever. I was a kid who had learned to adapt to his surroundings like everyone else in juvenile hall. I wore a mask just as deceptive as theirs. That mask was on the verge of being stripped away revealing who I really was.
There were many lessons my dear friend and mentor, Mark Salzman, taught me and the rest of his students 15 years ago. The ones that made the most profound impact in my life were to be vulnerable, to remain true to myself, to never forget the person I was and the person I was going to become. He taught us to believe in ourselves. Without these powerful lessons, I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today – a person with compassion for others and a burning desire to help as many young people as possible.
Mark also showed us the phenomenal power of creative writing – a tool I would use throughout my incarceration to vent my frustrations and sorrows.
Three years ago, on June 28, 2009, I was finally released from prison after serving 13½ years. I quickly learned that freedom came with its own price and the debt I owed to society – for my actions as a 16 year old – was higher than I could have imagined. Almost immediately upon my release, I encountered all of the well-known barriers faced by former offenders. I was stereotyped and stigmatized. I wasn’t able to communicate effectively with people that didn’t have the same background as mine, including family members since their language was much different from the one I learned to use while incarcerated. Trying to obtain employment was a nightmare. While I once fought for survival and for my freedom, I was now fighting for my redemption.
After working as a freight forwarder for 1½ years, I left that job without a back-up plan. Although some called it foolish, I decided to chase my dreams and began advocating for juvenile justice reform, restorative justice and for the transformative programs offered by InsideOUT Writers.
Nearly three months ago, my love story with IOW came full circle and I was hired as the new Case Manager. It has been one of the biggest blessings of my life and the chapters in my horror novel have finally come to an end. This is my new beginning.
Jimmy Wu was one of IOW’s first students. Today, as IOW’s new Alumni Program Case Manager, he is the first former student hired by IOW. An advocate for juvenile justice reform, Jimmy shares his story at high schools and community events.