“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A Letter From Noah Kilroy:
Ten years ago, I was serving time in a Florida prison for drug offenses. At the time, I told a fellow inmate in the prison yard that when I got out I was going to go to college. He laughed at me and said, “Noah, you’re crazy.” In 2009 I graduated college, and last Friday, I graduated from Roger Williams University School of Law. To that unsuspecting inmate in the prison yard that day, I say, “you were right, but I had to be.”
To many, graduation is a time to celebrate one’s accomplishments. A graduation or commencement ceremony is similar in significance to a wedding or birth of a child. Graduation is bitter sweet in that it signifies the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new. Looking back on my journey from prison yard to law school grad, I concede that the road was not without obstacles. At times, before I eventually hit my stride, it seemed as though that road wasn’t even visible.
Charting a career path after prison can be difficult. For me, I often walked a tightrope between what I was able to do given my criminal past, and what I was capable of doing given my ability. Those first few months after being released from prison were often consumed with a feeling of being unsure of myself. One example was when I initially had thoughts of applying to college. I remember saying to myself, “where is the book to read on applying to college with a criminal record?” To my dismay, there were none (that I knew of). However, in that process I realized that what I was really searching for was not a step-by-step guide for ex-offenders getting into an institution of higher education, but rather, validation that my dreams were realistic and attainable. Therein lies my error.
What I was doing when I was initially released from prison was allowing others to define my reality and limitations. By letting others define what I was capable of, I was inevitably bound by their realities. In essence, it was an imprisoning of the mind. As soon as I learned that, despite my criminal past, I did not need the permission of others to succeed, I began to dream big and dream bold. After getting my Bachelor’s degree from Salve Regina University, I quickly applied and was accepted into law school. Now, as a law school grad, I have applied for admission to the Rhode Island Bar to become a lawyer.
When reflecting back on my journey, there was a comment that a friend of mine (with a similar background) once made that sums up my current outlook on charting my goals. When speaking of his own journey from prisoner to lawyer, he profoundly said, “you almost have to have unrealistic goals.” In the eyes of many they will be unrealistic. However, in the hearts of the willing, those dreams are very real.
It is my hope that others, whether in a prison yard or otherwise, have the courage to dream beyond their wildest dreams. Know that you are the only person that can define your success. Understand that, despite where you come from, hard work and integrity will always transcend your reality. That is what I hope to instill in others through my work with the Transcending Through Education Foundation. Dream big and be a trailblazer! Just don’t be surprised if you get called “crazy” a couple of times along the way.
– Noah Kilroy
Noah is a Co-founder and Secretary at TTEF, which grants scholarships to people in prison or recently released. The inaugural awards are in 2013. Find out more at: www.TranscendingThroughEducation.org.
- Former inmate, addict, graduates from HACC (cumberlink.com)