By the time John Wallace was released from San Quentin, he had written 75 songs.
John Wallace, 39, who discharged in 2003, founded a project called STOP (Surviving the Odds Project) to help deter at-risk youth from falling into the school-to-prison-pipeline. Fifteen years after his release, he’s showing kids the creative outlet he wished he had at their age.
The former gang member now empowers at-risk youth through musical self-expression at Legion Beats in San Rafael, reported the Marin Independent Journal. His first class of 13 students will write, record and create a music video over the course of a few weeks. In May, they’ll have their first live performance.
“I wanted to give back to where a kid wouldn’t have to suffer any longer or blame others for what they’re going through and learn how to express themselves,” said Wallace, who grew up in Marin City.
Wallace started by focusing on kids in Marin County schools, not far from where he was incarcerated; he focused particularly on those at the greatest risk of being expelled, bullied or behaving in a manner that cries out for support.
“We did an ice-breaker where I told the kids, ‘Tell me something that you wouldn’t want anybody to know about yourself,’” Wallace said.
Surprisingly, the kids revealed secrets and stories that had a profound effect on them, like the murder of a sibling. Wallace himself had experienced bullying and trauma, too.
“We want to get them to express this type of stuff through music or express how it’s making them feel, without using profanity and without using glorification of drugs and street life,” Wallace said.
Long-term, Wallace hopes to establish STOP as a widespread after-school program.
“We’re just scratching the surface right now. I know what it’s like being an at-risk youth and dealing with my skin color, for one, growing up in Marin City, and the criminal justice system,” Wallace said.
After years of expressing himself on paper, Wallace released his first album, “All of My Life,” last December under the stage name Freedom because of what music has done for his life. His biggest supporters throughout his journey are his future mother-in-law and his fiancée.
“Her mom has always said, ‘I wish other people could see your light shine bright, because it’s shining really bright right now. You have something to offer,’” Wallace said. “I just have to keep believing that.”