April is Second Chance Month, which culminates in Reentry Week during the last week of the month. In honor of Reentry Week, we’re launching a campaign to Amplify Student Voices and featuring inspiring stories of justice-involved scholars, such as Isabel Gonzalez. Isabel is an undergraduate at California State University, Long Beach, where she is part of the class of 2023, studying sociology. 

Isabel, tell us about your career aspirations?

Right now, I’m working with single parents and formerly incarcerated students at a community college and plan to continue helping populations in need of support. I enjoy providing students searching for support systems with the resources they need to reach their goals.

Tell us about your path from prison to college. 

I’m twenty-eight now, and the last time I was arrested was when I was twenty-one. What prompted me to turn my life around and pursue higher education was the birth of my daughter. I’m also a survivor of domestic violence. After leaving her father, being a mother gave me the motivation to do something to improve our lives. My father was in and out of prison, and my mother struggled with mental health issues, so I wanted to create a new path for me and my daughter. I was able to get guidance from a crisis worker who helped me navigate my way through higher education. I obtained my Associate’s and now I’m pursuing my Bachelor’s at California State.

What was missing during your reentry journey that would’ve helped?

As I was in community college, it would’ve helped if I had access to mental health resources. I would sometimes drop courses because I was struggling with my mental health. 

What support systems were available to you when you began your educational journey?

At the community college level, there was a lot more hand-holding to help students get off the ground. California State has many programs designed to help students, but they are harder to find and difficult to get into. I was able to get into Project Rebound through networking and help from Homeboy Industries. The advisers at Project Rebound encouraged me to stay in school, which was helpful as I was thinking about dropping out.

Why were you considering dropping out?

I’m a single parent, during COVID I was working from home, which was hard since we share a small space. It was difficult trying to study while there was always noise coming through the apartment. I’m the first in my immediate family to go to college, and I have family members who don’t see school work as hard work, which can be discouraging. Combine all that with my mental health challenges, and I lost focus on my academics; my advisers at Project Rebound helped me get back on track, though.

What advice would you give to others coming home and interested in higher education?

Don’t give into imposter syndrome and think that you aren’t capable. Don’t compare yourself to your classmates. Focus on yourself. It took me six years to finish community college as a working single mom. Remember this is your journey, so take things one step at a time and look for the resources on campus that can help you succeed. 

Learn more about Reentry Week

If you are interested in learning more during Reentry Week, the National Reentry Resource Center is a primary destination for virtual events and resources focused on a variety of reentry topics including employment, education, behavioral health, housing, youth and families, making reentry work, and the importance of evaluation.

Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Learn more at www.20mm.org.