Valedictorian Albert Bell addressed the Ready, Willing & Able class of 2017 on March 23. Albert reflected on the changes the program has helped him make, and shared some life-changing news with the audience.
Good evening, everyone! My name is Albert Bell. And today, I am a proud graduate of Ready, Willing & Able from Porter Avenue!
I won’t spend a lot of time telling you about my childhood. It was tough, but probably not that different than what many of you went through. And I’m not going to talk much about my many incarcerations upstate. It’s enough to say they ran the alphabet–from Adirondack to Washington.
But I don’t want to dwell on the past. Because today is all about the future. Today, we graduate from Ready, Willing & Able!
There is one positive thing I can say about prison: it makes you realize where you don’t want to be. Which is…in prison. But knowing that isn’t enough. Because it doesn’t help you get where you want to go.
For a long time I dreamt about being a long-distance driver. But it was just that–a dream. I didn’t know how to actually get there. So every time I got out, I’d be ok for a while. And then I’d get restless. It’s true what they say: an idle mind is the devil’s playground. And man did the devil have fun in my mind.
Two months before my final incarceration was over, a friend told me about Ready, Willing & Able. He said I could get my commercial driver license through the program. It sounded too good to be true, but it was the best chance I had.
So I started pushing the bucket. That dreaded bucket. But you know what? I liked it. In prison you get pennies for cleaning toilets you can’t even use. But here I was, making money for me…for my future.
Then I started my CDL classes. Pretty soon I was working as a dispatcher, and eventually as a recruiter. Finally, I was getting somewhere.
When I look back now, I see that I spent so much time just doing the same things. Going back to those same streets…committing the same crimes…running in circles and going nowhere. Well I’m done running in circles. Now it’s all about that long road ahead of me. I know it will carry me. Because it’s built on a solid foundation and paved with optimism, thanks to everyone here at Ready, Willing & Able.
I’m still working on being the man I want to be, but now I know for certain where I want to go. I know how to get there. I’m ready to take that CDL test. I’m ready to get in that truck and start driving. And as of today, I am officially off parole!
A few months ago, Michael Vargas said something to me that captures everything about The Doe Fund. He said: “Where everyone else saw the problem in you, I saw the potential.” Michael, I want to thank you for that. There are so many people here I want to thank–too many to name. But they nearly run the alphabet as well, from Mr. Anderson to Mr. Wiggins. Thank you for being on me. For refusing to accept failure from me so that I wouldn’t accept it from myself any longer.
Even though they can’t be here today, I want to thank my niece and nephews for their support. Ashley and Stephan, your unconditional love has given me the strength to stand on this stage today. Isaiah, even though you’re younger, I have always looked up to you. And to my queen and her little prince–my greatest inspirations. Most of all: thank you, George and Harriet. On behalf of all of us graduating from this incredible program today, thank you for seeing our potential.
Now there’s just one last thing left to say: congratulations to the Ready, Willing & Able class of 2017!