HAYWARD, Calif. - Forrest Jones spent over two decades in California state prisons, but on Sunday, he graduated from college.
Jones grew up in Hanford in San Joaquin Valley where he was the youngest of 10 siblings in a working class family.
Jones said he started hanging out with the wrong crowd and spent 27 years of his life in California state prison.
"I started messing with drugs, became addicted," Jones said. "Started stealing to support my habit, landed in jail and drug rehabs; landed in jail twice…"
In 1991, Jones was sent to state prison for burglary and theft. Four years later, he was released, returned to his addiction and then received a sentence of 25 years to life under the California Three Strike Law for stealing a $400 VCR. In 2018, he was paroled after serving 20 years.
Everything changed for the better when he got transferred to San Quentin State Prison.
"San Quentin, being one of the best prisons in the State of California because of the different programs that they have there," Jones said. "Educational programs, vocational programs, self-help therapy programs and the many hundreds of volunteers."
Jones spent his incarceration studying the law and figuring out the root of his addiction. He became an activist and a journalist, writing for the San Quentin newspaper about law and prison reform. He was published in the Journal of Prisoners on Prison and made documentaries.
While a student at Chabot College, he spent time studying in the old library at Cal State East Bay and eventually transferred to the Hayward campus.
When he was released, he became a part of Project Rebound within the California State University system.
Now, he is hoping to inspire more formerly incarcerated people to better their lives and get a college education.
"I'm giving people hope, I know when I'm being vulnerable sharing this story, but I'm giving people hope…you can do anything you want to do…giving up shouldn’t even be an option."
In the fall, Jones will return to the classroom at California State East Bay to pursue his master’s degree in social work.