Penitentiary Valedictorian A Commencement Speech from Captivity to Freedom


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By Jack Walker | August 9, 2020

            I’ve written a lot of stories.  Seven years ago, this very publication – The West Texas Tribune, was the first newspaper that printed my work, outside of my school paper in college. I was a beat reporter for the sports page and eventual sports editor for The Rambler at my Alma Mater, Texas Wesleyan University.  It is where I played for the soccer team and studied Mass communications and radio television broadcasting and journalism for four years.      

            I also wrote several stories for the Abilene Reporter-News as a stringer, chasing high school football games under the iconic Friday Night Lights of West Texas and the Big Country. 

            My commentary on trending sports topics and events were also published in Sports Illustrated.  Five times in five different issues, distributed on all six inhabitable continents and translated into over seventeen languages.

            I believe based on these credentials, that I can safely say that I have been successful with words.

            Words are very important.  Some are born with an attractive and captivating nature.  Others acquire it through admiration and by practice.  If we do not have it, or were not working towards obtaining it, we are at a disadvantage.

            This isn’t a riddle…It’s an indispensable character asset.  It’s how we announce, declare and proclaim.  It’s how we import and export meaning.  The way we talk and how we speak.  The way we talk and how we speak.  This is expression.

            Words have in immeasurable impact on people.  How we formulate them is on people.  How we formulate them is vital.  How others interpret them is fragile.  Words are power.  They set us back and they advance us.  We win with them and we lose with them.

            We also win without them and lose without them.  Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all.  Sometimes less than more or, more than less.

            Always remember that yes, is a complete sentence and, no, is a complete sentence.  Perhaps most importantly, words are meaningless without action- probably because as the great cliché dictates:  actions speak louder than words.

            These words are for anyone that is being held captive.  Whether you’ve spent a day in jail, years in prison or just a moment locked away in your own dangerous mind… these words are for you.

            I’ve written a lot of stories.  All my stories have been written from inside the county jail or state penitentiary in the last 12 months.  I wrote about Dan Jones, the notorious “Booger Red”, a gangster turned to God on a quest for both salvation and another chance.  (“One Last Chance”, October, 2019 WTT)  I covered the World Series (December 2019 WTT) and the Super Bowl (Spearhead, February 2020), as well as a farewell tribute to the late, great Kobe Bryant (February 2020), whose life was claimed in a tragic helicopter crash on January 26 this year.

            I wrote about another prisoner, Charles Kelly Adams and his ambitious resolve and promise for conquering a world evil while fostering those whom tremble as its victims. (Listening Closer, January, 2020 WTT)

            My last two stories were about the global pandemic, The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the prison population.  (Cries from the Abyss, May 2020 and Concrete Jungle Fever, June 2020).

            I have written all these stories to captivate, compel and influence, to buoy the spirit and render meaning.  It is in this last year, that despite the world outside, a world we can only watch and read about but still more than anything- feel- that I have cohabitated with not a better accumulation of men, men that were broken and in pursuit of redemption.  These words are for these men.

            This is the one time I will tell you to quit:  Stop doing whatever it was that landed you there.  Give up your inflammatory behavior.  I encourage all of you to continue to pursue a renewed existence spiritually, mentally and physically.  Chase your dreams as you hum the tune of freedom.  Finalize the end of this time with a vision for a new beginning.

            For I know that if you’ve been through this and have done time, been held captive, whether it be a day in jail, years in prison or just a moment locked away in your own dangerous mind- then you are the only one standing in the way of your usefulness.

            When you make your transition from captivity to freedom, remember how valuable you can and will be to the world that we have been away from for so long.  Whether you have spent a day in jail, years in prison or just a moment locked away in your own dangerous mind.  Even a moment locked away is too much time.

            I came to the penitentiary by myself and will leave by myself.  I tried to use my time and energy to fix myself.  To fix myself the way a proud owner of a house would adjust a picture hanging crooked on a wall.

            I spent a lot of time writing many stories.  I wrote a lot of words.  Moreover, words are meaningless without action – so pray that these words bring about positive action and an invigorated revival into a world that all of us – at one time or another was locked away from for too much time. Word.

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