“I only knew what others had told me: that I was worthless, stupid, and a failure”
Prison taught Daniel Hen- son the value of education, and now he has earned a college scholarship.
“I did not finish kindergarten because of my parents’ bitter separation,” said Henson. “As a result, from then until I was 14 years old, I bounced from school to school.”
After failing out of 8th grade in 1996, Henson said that he “quickly spiraled out of control, associating with other delinquents and engaging in substance abuse. I did not go to school to learn. I went to socialize.
“I only knew what others had told me: that I was worthless, stupid, and a failure. I did not care. I did not understand the purpose or point of an education.”
Henson, now 37, was 16 when he was tried as an adult and sentenced to 176-years-to-life.
In prison, Henson discovered a passion for education. He earned a high school di- ploma and became certified as both a welder and fiber optic installer before taking the plunge into college, where he credits his instructors with helping him shape his intellect.
“I hated English my entire life and failed every test. I had no clue I could do so well,” said Henson. “With applied effort and the help of my Merced College professors, I surprised myself.
“I’m one of three who made history April 6, 2019, when we were awarded scholarships from the statewide honor society. And I wanted you to know a juvenile tried as an adult was one of them — me,” he wrote in a letter to Kid CAT Speaks.
“This just shows what ‘we’ (any of us) can do if given the opportunity.”
For their scholastic accomplishments within the Merced College program at Valley State Prison, Henson and David Flores each received $1,000 scholarships through Alpha Gamma Sigma (AGS), the Academic Honor Society and Service Organization of the California Community Colleges.
Anthony Medina received $1,600 from AGS for out- standing service. All three men were celebrated in absentia during the 93rd Annual AGS Convention this year in Ontario, Calif. Jennifer McBride, an adviser on Merced College’s English faculty, witnessed Henson’s exceptional progress firsthand.
“I have worked with many incarcerated students, but Daniel stands out to me as a student who seems to have embraced the idea of rehabilitation through education,” said McBride when recommending Henson for the award. “Daniel has learned much about himself during his educational journey behind bars.”
Michael Barba, professor of English at Merced College, joined McBride in describing Henson’s present-day scholastic drive.
“I find Daniel’s intellectual curiosity and maturity are rare for students at Merced College,” said Barba. “He is an outstanding student in multiple respects.
“Daniel made sure to dedicate the time and effort, not only to complete the task and complete it well, but to also assist others. He is truly a leader among his peers and fellow students.”
Henson also mentors young men in the Youth Offender Program.
“Daniel has shown a selfless commitment to assisting other inmates in their rehabilitation — in particular, youth offenders,” said McBride.
According to McBride, Henson developed and implemented MAGIC (Maturity + Accountability + Growth + Inspiration = Change) — a program that brings in outside community speakers. Also, she credits him with hosting The Day of Hope: Teenagers are Salvageable.
“This event is aimed at helping adult inmates, who were sentenced as youths, understand their value and potential,” said McBride.
“Yet, my greatest accomplishment is one you may not expect,” said Henson. “The fact is, I learned that I can learn.
“I learned that I do have value and worth. I learned that I can still be of use— regardless of how badly I have been, or am, damaged. I learned that my yesterday does not define my tomorrow.
“I have a very dark past, but a much brighter future.”