Tzu Chi Seattle Volunteers Celebrate and Support Formerly Incarcerated Societal Reintegration

Northwest  |  September 30, 2022
Tzu Chi volunteers preparing foods for
Tzu Chi volunteers carefully prepared meals for the formerly incarcerated to celebrate their graduation. Photo/ Xinqian Zheng

Edited by Jiali Liu
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Andrea Barkley

The autumn breeze that usually September weather in Seattle was not present this year. Instead, the forest fire’s incessant smoke polluted the fall weather. But Tzu Chi USA volunteers from Seattle, Washington, still brought supplies to the  “Justice Involved Solutions” re-entry program at South Seattle College Georgetown Campus. This event was the second post-pandemic in-person graduation ceremony.

On September 17, 2022, the graduation ceremony was held as planned. This graduation was the 101st ceremony for the program. The South Seattle College Georgetown Campus has witnessed 18,679 graduates from the “Justice Involved Solutions” program. On graduation day, around 30 students and family members, instructors, and nine Tzu Chi USA volunteers arrived on the scene to celebrate this event together. 

Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers doing preparation for the graduation students
Supplies Tzu Chi volunteers had carefully prepared for the students. Photo/ Xinqian Zheng
Different Tzu Chi magazines on the table
The table was filled with Tzu Chi magazines to convey to graduates the spirit of Tzu Chi USA. Photo/ Xinqian Zheng

At the initiation of the ceremony, the instructor superintendent, Mr. Garcia, began by welcoming all students, family members, and guests with an opening speech. Then, he repeatedly reminded them to work hard, stay grounded in the community, and listen to each other’s needs.

Each graduation ceremony opens the chapter to a new start in life. Tzu Chi USA volunteers encouraged students not to step back from difficulties in life and always stay on the right path. They told students, “The 101 building in Taiwan was once the highest in the world. But because global infrastructure continues to innovate, the fame of this building eventually dies down. The same applies to human beings. So we need to continue to move forward and not remain in the same spot.”

Mr. Garcia called out each student to collect their diploma and gift. As they received the certificate from their instructor, students were overwhelmed with joy. Tears of joy and emotions interweaved.

Graduate Oliver Rosales expressed that participation in the course changed his life, introduced him to different perspectives and ways of thinking, and gave him hope. His mother also participated in the ceremony. Upon seeing his son take the initiative to improve his life, she felt both grateful and proud at once.

He said, “I am grateful to participate in today’s graduation ceremony. My mother is happy and proud. I hope that I can continue to work hard.”

Another graduate student Ray McVay is already 71 years old. As he picked up the diploma from Mr. Garcia, he was moved to tears. His wife passed away several years ago due to Alzheimer’s. However, his enthusiasm for the course remained strong. He chose to confront his life positively, study, and work hard. He was extremely grateful for this opportunity.

Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers distributing graduation certification to the student
Tzu Chi volunteers distributed diplomas to students with genuine care and support.Photo/ Xinqian Zheng

Graduate Keri Borys attended the graduation ceremony in June. She expressed that Tzu Chi USA volunteers are the kindest people she has ever met. She brought her daughter along to participate in the ceremony and hoped her daughter could meet these volunteers. Keri graduated from the “Life Skills to Work” course today.

She expressed, “This course helped me understand my past habits, taught me how to make better choices in the future, and offered me love and support. The song ‘Love and Care’ at the beginning of the ceremony touched me. It brought back the feeling of childhood innocence and helped me realize the value of time. I am grateful to hear this song today.”

Graduate Robert McMurray was only freed from prison 96 days ago. Due to the encouragement from a past inmate and current course instructor Michael Florez, he participated in the re-entry course at Seattle. McMurry expressed that this course is like driftwood in the middle of the ocean, giving him a goal and a chance for rebirth. He received a Jing Si aphorism at the last ceremony, which he reread multiple times to understand the succinct phrases. The saying most touched him, ‘Nothing is impossible with confidence, perseverance, and courage.'”

He shared, “The ups and downs of life do not contain ‘failure,’ but rather growth opportunities. Being able to get back up from setbacks is the true meaning of courage.”

Tzu Chi Seattle volunteers distributing materials to the student
Tzu Chi volunteers gave supplies to each graduate ahead of time. Photo/ Xinqian Zheng

Graduate Michael Florez finished his 21-year-long sentence 592 days ago. Unfortunately, he almost lost his life near the end of his sentence due to contracting COVID-19. And Florez had no one to support him after he left prison. Luckily, he met Mr. Garcia and Tzu Chi USA and received emergency supplies. He was grateful from the bottom of his heart and has followed Tzu Chi USA on the road of growth, care, and altruism since then.

He shared, “I have been going to class and having the companionship of Tzu Chi USA volunteers, who never asked why I went to jail or doubted me. On the contrary, ever since I first met them, they have always chosen to trust me first. Indeed, if no one had believed me or guided me to see and accept my capabilities, I would have gone back to jail sooner or later.”

I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for Tzu Chi USA, Mr. Garcia, and all my classmates. Building a genuine friendship with others is not easy. But with their support, my journey no longer feels alone.

Summer Course Mr. Garcia
After the event, Mr. Garcia took a photo with participating volunteers. Photo/ Xinqian Zheng

Around 20 students graduated during this ceremony. Each has their challenging backstory. In the re-entry program, the path back to society is analogous to a rose: the initial setbacks and difficulties are similar to a thorny and dreary stem. The climb upward, such as going back to school, is filled with thorns and scarring for them, challenging their persistence and courage. Then the opportunity to attend college and receive work counseling is like green leaves of hope. Finally, with the mutual support of teachers and peers, they walk forward and blossom into beautiful flowers.

We are so lucky to bring the Master’s Dharma into the people. Karma brings us into others’ lives to light them up, empower them and help them uncover their strength. As the Master said, “life becomes infinite when bits of kindness accumulate into the power of love.”

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