Testimonial from Rafael B., SC Prison Inmate, August 2020

My name is Rafael B., I have been incarcerated since the age of sixteen years old and entered prison at seventeen. 

For many years it was difficult to adjust to the violent and negative environment of prison, because my thoughts were always on surviving. At my age, if you were doing something positive or striving to, you were considered as weak and preyed on. I surround myself with negative guys to blend and started getting into trouble. My thoughts were always on doing something positive to enhance my education, build my character, and give back; but it was so hard to balance the two things. As I developed into a man, I separated myself from negative people and started to pursue my goals. It was not easy, with limited education and all the obstacle placed in my way, but I continue to press on.

In 2015 I entered a Program called the Character Restoration Initiative to mentor young men with behavior issues and gang affiliations. I had to take a ten-week leadership class called Mission Advance/ Moving Forward and Upward. This class was led by volunteer Mark Epps. This was one of the most defining moments in my life. The class material helps me understand: The importance of Education, how I see the world and why, how to face my fears, Manhood, and controlling my future. After two classes I was on board. I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to have what I received. I became Co-Facilitator and now a Lead Facilitator continuing the spread of the Mission Advance curriculum information.

Testimonial from Ken N., SC Prison Inmate, August 2020

My name is Ken N. When I was convicted, I made an immediate decision not to live in prison the same way that led to me being here. I spent the first 12 years of my sentence trying to not only improve myself but also create opportunities for others who desired the same. Eventually I found my way to a SC prison where I became a regular participant at the monthly talent shows. It was through this monthly gathering that I first encountered “The Guy that plays the Guitar”(Mark Epps), no matter what, every month this guy would come to the institution, after hours, and support, participate, and enjoy our talent show. One day a guy I’ve known for over 10 years say “I got someone I want you to meet, I told him you’ll be great to help with his class,” I walked in the classroom and there was “ The Guy who plays the Guitar”, who I now know as Mark Epps.

When Mark explained his class and his vision, I was all in. It was like he was putting into practice my years of drafts and failed attempts. The powerful yet simplistic approach of Mission Advance quickly became a highlight of my week. I watched week after week our class participation grow and then stabilize with a core base. I would hear men say to their friends, “You’ve gotta come to this class, it’s the best in the dorm”. Or other men who leave the dorm and say, “I miss the class, is there any way to bring it to my dorm”? Mission Advance has encouraged men to acquire their C.E.O.’s, reach out to family that they’ve hurt and modify their own behavior. And every time you see one of these transformations it just makes you grateful for the time Mark invested. Personally, Mission Advance has affected me not just by curriculum but the man who presents it to all.

Mark has a rule in Mission Advance, “You are free to disagree.” This is a powerful statement in a place where A: You are not free B: You must comply. This statement, this rule, lets the men know he is listening to you and values your opinion. Mark has shown me that my view of being an outsider with the Scarlet Letter of C for Convict, is all me in my own mind. Mark has shown me that if I have something of value to offer then that C will stand for Colleague. I am glad to be part of a team that is dedicated to fostering change.