Receiving an associates degree in Human Services, with a specialization in Addiction Counseling means a lot to me for many reasons. I am now the first of my father’s children to receive a degree. I am a high school dropout. When I was 17, I found out that school was the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to party with my friends and stay out all night. Before long, I got lost in the streets. I was consumed for many years. I am a survivor of addiction, incarceration, and oppression. I am system-impacted; certain manners have been integrated into part of my life. I now have a record that will follow me around forever, so getting an education seemed to be what would benefit me in this struggle. I received my GED and within 60 days of being released from prison, I was registered for school.
I have come a long way since that time and now I find myself working to better the conditions of the criminal justice system, using my experience as a tool. I will no longer feel ashamed of the darkness that once consumed me. I used to struggle with drugs and alcohol, and now I have a degree to be a substance abuse counselor. Though I still must complete requirements to receive the license, this degree reminds me that I am on the right path. I hope to be an example of restorative justice and show young people that all is not lost. I owe so much to my family and myself, yet I couldn’t have done it without the love for my culture. Staying “close to the fire” is a motto we live by. To me, this means maintaining a connectedness with myself, my family, my community, the water, and, most important, the medicine of our ancestors.
With the help of loved ones I soon found myself working in our communities. I worked with spiritual elders who helped me find the balance within my past and my future. I worked with a non-profit organization, American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, run by the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation in the area of South Texas. Through cultural healing and Indigenous practices I was led to MILPA (Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement), whose purpose is to cultivate change makers for the next seven generations by improving the health and well-being of our most impacted communities. They helped me understand the importance of healing and relationship-building. After building relationships with many of the MILPA staff I was able to transform the way I think; I will no longer be ashamed of having been incarcerated. Instead, I will use it as a tool of redemption for the following generations.
I am now a Junior Research Assistant for the Restoring Promise Initiative, which is a collaboration between MILPA and the Vera Institute of Justice. We have come together to challenge mass incarceration by working with incarcerated young adults to change prison conditions in states across the nation. Restoring Promise is a value-based movement that focuses on cultural healing, family engagement, racial equity, and restorative justice. I hope that my lived experience can shed light on the darkness that so many young people go through today, especially in our prison system. My name is Joshua Somers of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation and this is only the beginning for me; the best is yet to come. Adelante.