When Taj Gardner thought about how to build his life after incarceration, he turned toward education.
“My education was always part of the plan,” he said. “Education is our passport for the future. If you fail to acquire it at this moment, do not expect your plane to ever lift off.”
Gardner attended courses through Alvin Community College while he was incarcerated with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He recently received his degree in Liberal Arts and was released in August.
“Taj is a determined young man,” said Sara Bouse, ACC director for TDCJ programs. “If you take the time to really visit with him about his goals in Iife, you can see he has the heart and desire to give back to those who need a helping hand.”
ACC was the first institution of higher education in Texas to offer college programs at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1965. In 2016, ACC was one of 67 colleges throughout the United States to be chose to participate in the Second Chance Pell program, which provides grants to inmate students.
Prior to enrolling in college while in prison, each inmate must first earn their high school diploma or GED, and pass all the same entrance tests required for every college student.
While taking courses through ACC, Gardner said he was inspired to earn a degree in arts and creative writing so he could pursue a living as a writer and entrepreneur once he was released.
“Ambition and drive have led me to multiple ventures moving forward,” he said. “My first book will be released sometime in April and my holistic products business will catch fire come summertime.”
Bouse said Gardner’s success will also serve as inspiration for other inmates who plan to seek opportunities once they are released.
“He wants to help others not make the same mistakes he’s made in life,” she said. “The educational opportunities he’s had through Alvin Community College will help him to be a positive productive member of our society.”
When Gardner was released and was able to pursue his passion, he felt his education had given him the tools he needed to succeed.
“It was an extremely pleasing sigh of relief due to the extraordinary circumstances which were involved in me getting to the finish line,” he said. “I am a fighter and I persevered thanks to the ultimate ruler of the universe.”
Education is a vital component to move forward in life for every student regardless of their background, Gardner said.
“Focused concentration is a remarkable habit I was able to develop and I definitely encourage all fellow graduates to pursue even higher achievements and accolades,” he said. “At one point, education, wisdom and knowledge were all I had. I totally enveloped my soul into my studies and this degree happens to be a very tiny slice being baked within a whole pie.”