None of us are perfect, which is why life revolves around second chances. Those in an unfortunate situation earlier in life can have the opportunity to improve themselves later on in life, and come back better than ever.
In 2012, Sanford Barber and Donte Small were cellmates at Maryland Correctional Institution.
It wasn’t always like this for Small, as he actually acquired a high school diploma years prior to his imprisonment, but he never felt confident enough in his own abilities to attend college.
The neighborhood he lived in wasn’t the best, and a series of bad decisions led to Small pleading guilty for assault, and ending up in prison. Despite the situation he and Barber found themselves in after having committed different crimes, they both looked for ways to better themselves while behind bars.
One day, Barber came across a flyer detailing a prison program that would allow inmates to take college courses, and earn credits. Small told The Washington Post that he doubted himself upon hearing about this, asking himself “Could I make it in college?”
Regardless, he and Barber went for it.
Small and Barber signed up for classes through Goucher College, and fully immersed themselves.
The two worked on an improvised desk in their cell, and they even proofread each other’s papers. Even if it was a special program, the men claimed that the work wasn’t a walk in the park at any point—they worked just as hard as any other college student would.
Barber was released last year, and said the college courses were life-changing.
“It was definitely a steppingstone,” he said. He plans to earn an associate degree in information technology and then transfer to the University of South Florida. Barber flew to Baltimore to congratulate Small.
Small persisted, and was granted release from prison; his quest to graduate was only starting.
Upon his 2014 release, the man was less than 100 credits away from reaching the number necessary to graduate, so he pushed on.
He continued to attend Goucher College, with the help of some loans. And his performance only improved as time went on. In contrast to the Ds he was used to getting in high school, As and Bs were the only letters he saw at the end of each semester. Small was like a new man.
And in May 2018, Small finally was able to walk across that stage, and obtain his Bachelor’s Degree in computer science.
Goucher College even acknowledged Small on Twitter, along with another student of the program.
— Goucher College (@gouchercollege) May 23, 2018
Small said he wants to “push, challenge, and change the narrative about individuals with a criminal past,” and based on how he did in school, it looks like he embodies that message.
To go from being in prison to getting a college degree in a few years is impressive, and Small isn’t done with bettering himself as he plans on mentoring his younger brother to do well in school too.
If anything, Small is a prime example of how it’s never too late to turn your life around.