A former drug supplier and a legal, Benny Gutierrez admits his cruises by Chico State’s tree-lined campus rising up had been usually on his solution to do enterprise or evading regulation enforcement, in between stints in juvenile corridor, group properties, jail, and ultimately jail. Rising up with zero steerage and dangerous influences, suffice to say, a school training was not on his radar.
When he makes his solution to College Stadium later this month, he’ll be strolling in with confidence as he graduates together with his bachelor’s diploma in humanities and concerns to pursue a grasp’s, whereas additionally holding tightly to a dream of furthering a program he began to help college students who’ve a connection to incarceration.
“I’ve had much less for a very long time,” he mentioned. “I would like one thing extra.”
Incarcerated for many of his grownup life till the age of 42, Gutierrez began to rethink his path whereas trying round at his fellow inmates throughout his final stint in jail.
“I used to be taking part in out the tape for the remainder of my life if I continued doing what I used to be doing, and it didn’t look good,” he mentioned. “I felt like my life was price greater than that, and that I may do one thing constructive and impact change.”
Gutierrez began attending self-help teams throughout his time in jail and processing his traumas, together with the murders of his sister when he was 3 years previous and his brother when he was 12. And he began taking lessons at Merced Faculty by a jail training program. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than he was nominated for and received Excellent Scholar of the Month—not simply inside his correctional cohort however all college students on the group school. He was additionally awarded first place in fiction within the PEN America 2017 Jail Writing Contest and submitted a brief movie to the Pembroke Taparelli Arts & Movie Pageant that very same yr.
“I believed, ‘I’m good at this, and individuals are noticing,’” he mentioned. “Once I got here dwelling that point, I left all of the gang stuff behind.”
Launched on parole, Gutierrez began reflecting on how his life decisions had not solely stunted his personal alternatives however deeply broken his group, “like a pebble in a nonetheless pond,” he mentioned. He needed to make amends.
“I do remorse the trauma I precipitated different human beings however I don’t need to chalk up my expertise as a loss,” he mentioned. “I can use it for good.”
He determined to start out by attending Butte Faculty, regardless that nobody else in his household or social circles knew the very first thing about greater training.
“I couldn’t fill out a FAFSA from a DMV type however I did it. I sat down and figured it out,” he mentioned.
Gutierrez was quickly excelling in his lessons, and he began a program at Butte Faculty for previously incarcerated college students, Ascending Students, to supply a community of steerage and help of their pursuit of a level.
In spring 2020, he earned his affiliate’s diploma with honors and set his sights on Chico State. With a deep love of studying, he persevered by his first two semesters of digital studying by connecting instantly together with his school and interesting in significant methods with the coursework. There have been many instances when he was one among solely a handful of scholars to activate their cameras in school, however he loved having wealthy discussions on all the pieces from comparative faith to world cultures to traditional literature. He quickly declared a significant in humanities.
Reflecting on the Ascending Students, he determined to start out an identical membership for Chico State college students. Gutierrez wrote a structure and bylaws, discovered a number of school who had been keen to be advisors, and recruited scholar members.
Rebound Scholars is open to previously incarcerated college students and justice-impacted college students. Whether or not somebody has spent a day in jail, juvenile corridor, jail, or immigration detention—or had a cherished one with that have—all are welcome, together with anybody involved in reform and social justice.
Gutierrez mentioned this system creates group and help, and he hopes it would at some point have programmatic funding just like the Dream Heart or PATH Students Program, with devoted area and staffing, funds for laptop computer loans and textbooks, and different sources.
“Right here’s the factor about previously incarcerated college students,” he mentioned. “We attempt actually arduous. We don’t complain loads as a result of we’re used to worse circumstances. The folks in my membership, they’re all badasses. They’re double majoring and changing into legal professionals and so profitable with their research.”
Gutierrez himself has maintained a wealthy stage of involvement, serving as a scholar ambassador for the Faculty of Humanities and Fantastic Arts, sitting on the Institutional Assessment Board, and incomes Humanities Main of the Yr honors. He additionally has been working with Admissions to share his expertise as a nontraditional returning scholar, and he has taken programs in museum research, with an eye fixed towards political artwork exhibition.
After the 2020 homicide of George Floyd, he partnered with a peer from Butte Faculty to placed on a Black Lives Matter artwork present, elevating $2,000 for the civil rights advocacy nonprofit Color of Change. The expertise sparked an curiosity in artwork curation, and he now’s the only curator of Greenhouse Studio, a group gallery in Chico that elevates the work of native artists who’re concerned in activism, together with a Prisoner Artwork Present at Arc Pavilion and Artwork in Corrections on the 1078 Gallery. He’s additionally excited for an set up that opened this week within the Bell Memorial Union, the place all of the art work is by present and previously incarcerated artists and system-impacted college students.
“I can’t communicate loudly sufficient about how essential these efforts have been for our group, in utilizing artwork to push for social change and to create areas of group and solidarity,” mentioned Laura Good, professor of comparative faith and humanities and director of the Janet Turner Print Museum. “Because the begin of the pandemic, many nonprofit arts organizations have closed, making this work is much more very important.”
Gutierrez mentioned he has been struck by the unbelievable help he has obtained from school like Good, his main advisor Jed Wyrick, and others. He sometimes doesn’t share particulars of his background till he will get to know his professors higher, eager to be judged on his tutorial advantage somewhat than his legal historical past, however when he does open up, he’s discovered folks to be extremely supportive and enthusiastic of his objectives.
For Good, who has taught him in two lessons, it was instantly obvious how exemplary Gutierrez is in connecting his classroom studying together with his ardour to make a distinction by arts locally. He has been invited as an undergraduate to take graduate-level programs, and lately took a management function to facilitate a small scholar dialog with E book in Frequent creator Tommy Orange.
“His life experiences and distinctive path to greater training have mixed to make him a very singular chief and advocate in our group and on campus,” Good mentioned.
Wyrick, who nominated him for the Lt. Rawlins Advantage Award—one of the vital prestigious scholarships on the College—describes him as a consummate engaged scholar, beneficiant class participant, and stellar author and reader who was considerate and thought-provoking in his interactions inside and out of doors of sophistication.
“Benito is among the many most thoughtfully forward-thinking college students I’ve had the pleasure working with in my years at Chico State,” Wyrick mentioned. “I firmly imagine that he has solely simply begun to point out his humanity to the world.”
As he prepares to graduate, Gutierrez says his most significant accomplishment is how proud his household is of him. His dad, a Vietnam veteran and “old-school Chicano” who didn’t see the worth in his son getting an training within the humanities, usually attends his artwork reveals and occasions the place Gutierrez has been offered as a visitor speaker.
“[My family] knew me as a technique—because the cousin they didn’t need coming over to the home as a result of the cops would possibly quickly comply with,” he mentioned. “Now, they’re all asking for my assist to get into school. I really like my life.”
As he humbly marvels at how he’s set himself up for a future that’s so markedly completely different than the trail he was on many years in the past, Gutierrez encourages different college students from troubled backgrounds to not hand over.
“Really feel such as you belong—since you do. You’ll be able to’t let anyone let you know in any other case,” he mentioned. “Don’t really feel intimidated. You’ve been by adversity of different kinds. You are able to do this.”