Credible Messengers

An Interview with Ryan “Flaco” and Lisandra Rising

Rachael Collins
Photos by Pedro Nieves

I might never have met Lisandra or Ryan “Flaco” Rising if it weren’t for Alejandro. For those of you who don’t know Alejandro, he was Lucid’s first undergraduate intern and his writing and interviews feature in last year’s “Worldbuilding Issue.” And thanks to Ryan, who he met on campus at last year’s student protests, Alejandro has now become part of the community of Underground Scholars, a UC program that supports students impacted by incarceration. It was Alejandro who suggested that we collaborate with Underground Scholars on our Educate! Emancipate! issue and I’m so glad we did. Ryan and Lisa are both Underground Scholars and they are both students at UCI—Ryan a graduate student in criminology, law and society and Lisandra an undergraduate in social policy and public service. They also have two of the most delightful teenagers I’ve ever met, Mia and Riley and a dog—Buddy (Oh, Buddy). This interview took place over dinner at Ryan and Lisa’s place in graduate student housing just as Spring quarter was drawing to a close and so many students were getting ready to graduate or go back home for a few months and regroup. Ryan was recovering from back surgery and Lisa was HOLDING.IT.DOWN. Sharing their childhood experiences with medical negligence, incarceration, and the long, sometimes harrowing journeys to get an education, Lisa and Ryan helped me to understand what it truly means to be “system-impacted.” We also talked about Alberto (also featured in this issue) and Ryan’s “Credible Messengers” program, work they do in the juvenile hall in Orange County–work so exciting that we’ve included a whole section in Lucid this year that features art and writing from students in the program.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
— Maya Angelou
From left to right: Buddy, Lisandra, Ryan, Mia, and Riley.

I. Path to Education: Big Pharma and the 2013 California Prison Strikes


I read a lot about both of you in various newspapers from San Diego to Santa Barbara and now here—Lisa you were the commencement speaker for your graduation from Santa Barbara City College and Ryan you were in the news for building out the UC Santa Barbara chapter of Underground Scholars and before that the Urban Scholars Union at SDCC. It’s impressive work and I know it hasn’t been easy, but it’s obvious you are committed to education opportunities for system impacted communities. How did each of you find your own path to education and ultimately to education activism?


I was a part of the 2011 and 2013 prisoner hunger strikes. It was the first time I participated in activism. We starved ourselves for 33 days in New Folsom State Prison. We were tired of our confinement conditions and we were tired of waiting for rehabilitation programs that were promised but never came. And we were also tired of the indeterminate segregated housing units, where they were putting some people in the segregated housing units for the rest of their lives. And so we all came together in solidarity on the main line--all 33,000 of us. And we won. The first yard where they came out from solitary was New Folsom State Prison [where I was incarcerated], so I was there when they were letting out all the elders.


What was that like?


It was amazing. There was a no violence policy and they did not resort to violence whatsoever in that yard. It was an interesting dynamic to see leadership finally arrive. We were all lost, but when leadership came, it was the most unity I've ever seen, and everything was handled diplomatically through conversation. 


Two weeks after that 2013 prisoner hunger strike, they [also] gave us Lassen Community College, and now they were giving us the books. Before, if you wanted to enroll in a class you had to buy the books and the books were like $250. We were not going to spend our store money to buy books. And so two weeks after I came up off that hunger strike, they slid a paper underneath all our doors and it said, you guys are now being invited to go to Lassen Community College. It's a two-year Associate's Degree. You'll get the books paid for. They made five different curriculums available that you could choose from. I chose sociology. The first two courses that I took were College Success and Pharmacology of Drug Abuse. I wrote about a dozen different research papers on each drug that I used throughout my life, including Ritalin and Prozac, what the drug did to me and how my body would respond to it. I wrote about becoming violent and depressed on Prozac. I would tell my mom I wanted to die. And I wrote all this up. I wrote about being diagnosed with ADHD at seven years old and prescribed Ritalin. That was where I was turned into a drug addict. It was by my school telling me that I had ADHD, telling my mom, "He needs drugs to be normal."

And so they just fed me all these pills and I just became this test subject. And there were millions of other kids like me, and you know where we all ended up? Prison.

I was in juvenile hall. By the age of 12, I was locked up, and it was due to all this violence  because of these pills. These medications would make me explode. I stabbed people, fought people. I would flip desks over in school and throw chairs in the classroom. They segregated me in a resource room. I was already being pipelined. And as soon as they could lock me up at the age of 12, that's what they did. They locked me up and my mom would have to come to the hall to visit me, or they put me in the ranch and I was on a work ranch and it was horrible.

When I started reading about these drugs and writing papers, I also found out my neighbor in the next cell (who I would talk to through an air duct vent) was also diagnosed with ADHD.  It was through prison education that we all started connecting and the whole entire yard changed. Instead of us going out and talking about things we did in the streets, hitting licks and stuff like that, now it's "Hey, check out this algebraic expression,” “Hey, will you help me revise my paper?”


Or "Hey, did you know that Big Pharma tried to kill you?” I think about the Sacklers.


Big Pharma is what happened to me. I was an athlete in [high school]. Sports was one of the only things that we had to look up to in our neighborhood. For many of us, sports and school was our only safe spot. And I just remember all my friends, even if we were from the neighborhood, we all loved a sport and hung onto that sport since we were little and all throughout high school. But then we had sports injuries. And that’s when the crazy prescriptions started.


What year was that?


2000. And I was 13. We were already getting drunk and high before we started to find out like, wow, we don't even need to go get drunk and get high because these pills are getting us high. And it's not even detectable. So when our parents would notice a problem and get us tested for drugs, they wouldn't find anything in our system. But by the time we were 16 years old, the doctors were saying, "Oh yeah, she's going through her script so fast. She might be addicted." By this time we were going to TJ and buying generics and bringing them back over the border. My parents had no idea the damage that this was going to do; it was so normal that the pills would just be sitting out on our nightstand!


That was before the public had any knowledge about Big Pharma’s aggressive efforts to promote and distribute these drugs. Media coverage and legal efforts didn’t even start until nearly ten years later and now it is a leading cause of death in the United States. And the sad part is that the Sacklers got to keep their money and stay out of prison.


And what ended up happening to me and my friends was that half of us passed away from overdosing. I overdosed, I don't know how many times. Nobody got scholarships for college. Higher education wasn't even in my cards. I tried to go to the extension center at UCR [UC Riverside]. My dad got me an apartment next to it just so I felt like I was doing something, but that lasted me six months and I was back home because the pills were just too much. I was passing out everywhere. So that just controlled me all the way up until 27.


What changed?


Changing the environment. Going from Riverside to San Diego and completely eliminating myself from an environment where I was just absorbed in destruction. A lot of people can get clean and healthy in their environment, but I couldn't get off pills there at all. So when [Ryan] would tell me about how he ended up the way he did, I could relate. But higher education didn't really save me, getting a steady schedule and having a routine saved me. That kind of structure determined my success so that I was able to work and get an apartment and live and be functional. Because I didn't know how to do that before.

II. Questioning Authority and Finding Community


This topic reminds me a lot of the discussions I have with my first gen students. Many of us come from traditional families where institutional power is respected, especially in my family the doctors and teachers were like . . .


. . . The healers. The professionals. The experts.


Exactly. The professionals, the experts. It is a gesture of trust and respect to defer to them. And I grew up in a family like that, and a lot of the first gen students that I teach grew up in families like that. "Listen to your doctor. Listen to your teacher. Do what you're told." Even if you are in an environment that is safe, that mentality makes you vulnerable. I meet a lot of students who don’t trust institutional power because they have seen what it did or continues to do to their parents. How can we teach students to advocate for themselves in these environments, how to communicate their expectations and their needs?


We have to emphasize community. I kind of reflect back when I got out of youth authority. My mom and dad had divorced while I was incarcerated, and so I went to live with my mom. And my mom worked two jobs. One of them was a bartender and she wouldn’t get home until 3:00 in the morning. She’d wake up at 7:00 in the morning to go to her grocery store job and she would do that until 4:00 or 5:00 in the evening, come back, rest, maybe make me a dinner, but most of the time I was having to take care of myself. I didn't really have that family. And because my family was all messed up, I found family whenever I would be incarcerated. That’s where I had friends. We would talk all night, and we'd play cards, and that was where I could kind of function and relate to the people around me.


So you really discovered community in prison.


In prison, yeah. And that's kind of how it went, even as an adult. When we went to the yard, we were all willing to die together. We never knew if that would be our last yard.


And what happened once you were released? Since you had been taking classes in prison, did you plan to continue with your education?


No. A few months before I was released, the counselor comes and they ask you if you have an address, and I didn't have an address. And so he said, "You're transient". And I was like, what the heck's transient? So I went and got my dictionary, I looked it up and I was like, "Oh, I'm houseless." I was like, "Oh shit, I'm going to be living on the streets."


But you had been in college classes in prison. It didn’t occur to you to keep going?


But I didn't even know what those units were. Those classes were something that we earned through starving ourselves. I didn’t know what units were, what a GPA was. In my mind, those classes were just education, but college was for rich people.

For everyone around me, anybody that comes from our background, that's what we think. We look at it as college is for rich people. It ain't for us.


But my homie inside, Phillip Dorsett, he was my tutor. He's the one that taught me how to write with periods and commas. He taught me my timetables and division. He taught me everything for school. And when I was about to be released, I'm telling the homie and he's like, "Hey, Flaco what are you going to do when you’re out?" And I was like, “shit, I'm going to go back to the hood, homie. I ain't got nowhere to live out there, ma boi. I'm going to be living on the streets. I don't know what the fuck I'm going to do, homie. I don't know. I might go on the run. I'll probably just go on the run."

So when Dorsett was like, "Why don't you just go to college, Flaco?" I thought how the hell am I going to pay for college? I can't afford college. And he says, "No, I think you can go, bro. Let me look into this." And he had a secret cell phone at the time, so he said, "I'm going to find an organization, Flaco, that will help you." And he's looking, he's looking, and he finds the Underground Scholars program at Berkeley. And then he finds that there's a homie that co-founded it and and he was locked up in solitary confinement. And so he's tripping and he's like, "Hey, Flaco, I found an organization homie, and it's made by homies and it's at Berkeley. I'm going to get you into Berkeley." That's what he told me.

So one day he shoots the cell phone over to me in a brown paper bag. I opened it. He's like "Hey Flaco, press send and ask for Turtle". I pressed send and I was all, "Hello? Are you Turtle?" He says "Yeah, what's up, man? It's Danny Murillo" [co-founder of Underground Scholars].

And so Danny Murillo's on the phone and he's like, "Hey homie, I heard you're getting out and I want to help you. I heard that you're in college. How many units do you have?" And I had to look at the paper they just sent me from Lassen Community College because I didn’t know. And I went and I grabbed it and I looked at the units, and it says 43.0 units. I was like, "I got 43 units. What are those?" And he was like, "Oh, those are the units that you get for completing all your classes but you only need 20 more to transfer to the UC."

And so the next thing I know, I'm telling all the homies out on the yard. They're like, "Hey, Flaco, you're short-timing it. What you going to do when you get out?"

"I'm going to UC Berkeley."

And they were like, "What?"


Did you really feel that you were going to do that—go to Berkeley?


I was just saying it. I just started to try to manifest and create it. So I was telling the homies on the yard that I was going to be Dr. Flaco, and they would all laugh at me.

Then I get off the bus [right after I was released] and all I saw were homeless people. I ended up sleeping on a bench. And when I woke up in the morning, I was in front of San Diego City College. When I went to my parole officer, I ended up telling him, "Hey, I want to go to college, and I'm going to go to San Diego City College." I thought he was going to laugh at me. He had a thick binder in front of him with my record, so I thought he was going to be like, "Yeah, you ain't going to no college. What are you going to do, sell drugs there, Flaco? Like, come on bro. Who you fooling?" But he looked at me and he said, "Well, that's a good goal."

III. Taking Flight: The Road to Prison Education Activism


And San Diego City College is where you first started getting involved in advocacy?


We created the Urban Scholars Union, which was a formerly incarcerated student led organization at San Diego City College, but it was inspired by Underground Scholars. We'd asked them if we could make an Underground Scholars at the community college.

I met my wife at San Diego City College. On graduation day, I had my family there. My dad went to my graduation, my mom was there, everyone was at my graduation, and I proposed to my wife on my graduation day.

Ryan and Lisa Rising in their home.

And how did you decide to go to UC Santa Barbara?


Well I did get accepted to Berkeley, so my homie was right—he got me into Berkeley. I got accepted to UC Irvine. I got accepted to UC Santa Barbara. The University of San Diego gave me the Circle of Excellence scholarship because of all the work I'd done at San Diego City College with the community. It was a full ride scholarship. But I turned them all down and went to UCSB because they didn't have anything for formerly incarcerated students and I wanted to create an Underground Scholars Program there to support the formerly incarcerated individuals in the surrounding communities.

Lisandra went with me to UCSB. We went through a lot there; we did help build up the Underground Scholars program, but it ended up being an unwelcoming environment for us. We stuck together as a family, fought through it as a family. We got through it all together.


What about your journey with education, Lisa?


When I first met Ryan I was working all these crazy hours in retail and that's when he proposed an idea, "Hey, you should try to go back to school." Years before I had been to a vocational school that ripped me off $15,000, so I was really traumatized by aiming for something higher. These schools—I call them pop-up schools—they would just come in and say, "Hey, you want a degree In 18 months or two years?" In San Diego, it was a commercial that was on the television screen. I saw it when I was living with my Mom in San Diego just after I got rehabilitated. She said, "Hey, you're not just going to be sitting around. You're going to get a job or you're going to go to school." So when I saw that commercial, I thought, "Hey, I should sign up for school and I'll get my degree in 18 months." And Mia was little and I was going through Child Protective Services and difficult stuff like that so it sounded great.

I did end up graduating. I was going to be an alcohol and drug counselor. They had a graduation ceremony. I was working at a detox and long term rehab facility in San Diego and they wanted me to move up, but I needed to take my state KDAC test first. So when I went back to the school to take my state test, the school was shut down. My transcripts were there. There was nobody to contact. The school was all boarded up and it disappeared. So I was in the red and I couldn't go back to school until I paid back $15,000.

When we moved [from San Diego] to Santa Barbara, that's when I thought, "Hey, my loan's paid off. I'm really freaking bored up here. I have no family, no friends.” So  I went back to school.


You must have felt really skeptical about education after that experience.


Well, the money part for sure. I didn't understand financial aid. I just thought that I was going to have to pay back any money that they were going to give me for school. So I was kind of traumatized and thinking, wait, should I take this? But I was also motivated to go back because I didn't understand what [Ryan] was doing at school. There was a huge disconnect. And then here we are, newly engaged and he’s coming home talking about organizing and words I've never heard of: "grassroots" this, and “solidarity” that. And then he was organizing the Underground Scholars with Gilbert [Murillo] and I was tagging along and I didn't understand what was going on and I needed to understand.


Sounds like the early experience of being scammed prepared you to see education as a pathway to activism, whether you knew it at the time or not. When I talk to people in student support services, they often express a wish to see a more robust teaching culture at UCI where teachers take an active role in getting to know and mentor their undergraduate students. For me personally, a lot changed when I started making an effort to understand student support services on campus—Basic Needs, the Dream Center, Underground Scholars. I started to see how important it is to invest in these centers and programs that respond to and support underserved student communities.


UCI just gave Underground Scholars a space to organize this year. We opened in March even though the Program has been around for three years. Hector was trying to run it from Starbucks! It was super uncomfortable, but we kept organizing.


When I was getting educated, everything was just an exercise in masking. I was a single mom. I was homeschooled. I didn’t have a high school diploma. I would just repeat constantly “I've got it. I'm on top of it.” I was terrified of showing any weakness. And my fears were warranted–when I needed teachers to be understanding, I was often met with resistance, skepticism, even assumptions that I was trying to get a free pass. So when we're talking about things like community building, it isn’t a buzz word. It has the power to change academic culture, to transform the power dynamics of a classroom, of a public space. In a learning environment where students are empowered to explore and think and develop a voice, they begin to see themselves as agents in their own education. And they begin, I think most importantly, to make demands on the institution.

IV.  What Makes a Messenger Credible


What's crazy is that when the prisoner hunger strikes were going on, undocumented students were just seeing the passage of DACA, which happened as a result of years of student-led activism to get status in higher education. And we are all in this war just to get access to the same state funding that everyone else gets, to get paid positions, work study.


With all the work you are doing and with raising a family, is it difficult to keep up with classes?


We're taking hits. Absolutely. It's been really rough this first year for me and my wife and my family. We lost my dad. Our other daughter ran away. And so we've taken a lot of hits.


Both you and Lisandra do volunteer work in Juvenile facilities. Ryan, you are teaching at the Orange County juvenile hall where you developed the Credible Messengers Program with Alberto Lule, whose work is also featured in this issue along with writing and art from several of your students. Love that name, by the way–the credibility of the message is something I think about a lot. Can you tell us about the Program?


Berto and I developed this Program from just our heart. We sat down and we put a proposal together for the Director of Tango Unit at Orange County Juvenile Hall that allows us to use creative arts to connect with these incarcerated youth, to give them critical thinking skills, to give them public speaking skills, to involve them in all types of different consciousness building exercises, and then also [to provide] healing. And it's a way of healing that we all do together. When we first went in, we built the class with them. In the first meeting, we let them build the classroom community rules—they wrote them all on the board. Since then we’ve run multiple exercises, each designed to build up a person—build their minds up, build their critical thinking and creative writing, and build connections, where they see themselves connected to each other.


What gave you the idea to have them develop their own community guidelines?


We come from prison. And in prison we establish our own reglas for how we move with each other. And that was what we wanted to give them, too. We already know this is their house; we also want it to be their class.


They have a stake because they were given the power from the start to determine what they wanted the community to look like.


And Berto and I have a stake. We're dedicating our time out of our busy work and school stuff and families and everything that we do to go back and be the credible messenger mentors that uplift them that they can look up to.

Graphic text: "Credible Messengers"

So what are the rules that the students came up with?


Participation, for one. They even said participation is a must, but you can find your thing. There's some kids who aren’t writing; they don’t want to participate in the writing practice. They might feel more like artists. I’ll tell them to draw something, and then some of them might just be like, it's not there like that. But they know they have to share something and then when it comes down to sharing, they will get up and freestyle. So they freestyle a story and it's the craziest thing. And they'll sit there and it will just come from their mind and they'll put it all together right there. And I'm like, wow. It's the most powerful thing. So when they're not participating, they have it already that they're going to participate at the end and they're going to share something.


I love the idea of making participation just about membership in a community and about how you feel most comfortable expressing yourself within that community, whether that's through writing or art or performance or whatever. As long as you know you will be heard. It’s interesting because the biggest complaint I heard when I was mentoring new teachers was “I can’t get my students to participate in class.”


It seems like we formerly incarcerated students are the only ones talking!


Right! Why do you think that is?


Honestly, I feel like we didn't have access to all this technology that was pacifying us. Instead, we were having to talk to each other. Then also I feel like [once free, formerly incarcerated people] want to communicate with different personalities. I'm a TA for a class right now where the teacher gives prompts and students write and then maybe share in small groups. But I think it would be cool to call on four or five people randomly and they have to get up and share what they wrote with the whole class. Standing upin front everybody would push people to engage and participate.


Well, that takes a particular kind of teacher and a particular kind of tone that needs to be established in the class for students to feel.


Comfortable and confident.


Because otherwise what's going to end up happening is you're going to see some students get up there and really shine. And then you're going to see people get up there who have a lot of anxiety, who have experienced shame and then it’s just going to feel like another shaming exercise. So you really, really have to have a nurturing, supportive learning environment to experience that kind of confidence and that takes time.


And the Credible Messengers Program is ongoing. They get a promotion every 13 weeks and they keep going until they parole and, once they parole out they have a portfolio, and in their portfolio they have a bunch of writing, a bunch of art, and they share this portfolio with the class, and they do a presentation when they get their final certification. And then once they come out to the community, we get them into higher education, and then we get them into Santa Ana College or some other community college, or a [Cal State] or we get them straight into UC Irvine. After their first year in college, we then promote them to become Underground Scholars and Credible Messengers, and then they will be the ones going into the juvenile hall to teach students.

Alberto Lule and Ryan pose behind stacks of books.

I think that kind of commitment to community has the potential to transform the culture and landscape of higher education.


Yeah, big time.


When I came over to your house to do this interview and photo shoot today, there were three students here from Underground Scholars who had stopped by to see how you were doing after your recent back surgery. It seems like every time I do anything with Underground Scholars, there is just a really powerful sense of community that I have never experienced in an academic context and I think that has a lot to do with the commitment to mentoring—a commitment that isn’t just about showing students how to navigate the system, but also consistently showing up for them as they do. How do you think we can make that kind of commitment to students the norm rather than the exception?


I believe that higher education should be a dynamic and student-centered space that empowers learners to actively shape their educational journey. A bottom-up approach, where students have a stronger say in the development of curricula, policies, and the overall learning environment, is a transformative vision. By giving students a meaningful voice, we can ensure that education aligns closely with their needs and aspirations, fostering a more engaged and motivated learning community.


I am passionate about the idea of students having a role in accountability.  A symbiotic relationship between educators and learners promotes an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration, ultimately enhancing the quality of education.

I also strongly advocate for curriculums that embrace a wide range of perspectives and experiences. For instance, I am personally committed to becoming a professor with a unique perspective as a formerly incarcerated individual. This perspective can enrich discussions around criminal justice, rehabilitation, and social reintegration. It's my belief that this type of representation in academia can foster empathy, understanding, and inspire positive change in both students and society.


What are your plans for the future?


My plans for the future revolve around embodying this vision of higher education. I aspire to become a professor who facilitates learning through open dialogue, critical thinking, and diverse viewpoints. By integrating my personal experiences into the curriculum, I aim to create an environment where students can learn about the complexities of the criminal justice system from an informed and compassionate perspective.

To achieve these goals, I will continue to further my education and research in fields relevant to my passion. I also plan to engage with advocacy groups, professionals, and communities involved in criminal justice reform. By networking and collaborating, I hope to connect with like-minded individuals who share the vision of an inclusive and student-centered higher education system.

My aim is to inspire positive change and contribute to a more equitable and impactful educational landscape. By fostering empathy, critical thinking, and social consciousness, I believe we can create a brighter future through education that truly serves all members of society.


What about you, Lisa? What changes would you like to see in higher education?


There are two major changes I'd like to see within the institution. The first one is the year long math requirement for most majors upon admission. As for myself, I thought my statistics class at my previous community college was going to suffice my math requirement for UCI . . . WRONG! I still had to take Probability and Stats when I got here. The math requirement is needed for most science majors, even social sciences. The challenge wasn't retaking stats, the challenge came when the school didn't provide any resources for math except LARC tutoring which is $125 that comes out of your tuition (even if you are considered 'low-income') with one student tutor who tells you to work in groups for the answers, but we are all as lost as the the next student .

The other limited resource is office hours with a Professor who didn't have T.A.'s but expected you to remember numerous formulas from recorded zoom lectures and class. There aren't any available math tutors on hand to assist, nor a math lab on campus which Santa Barbara had open from 9–5pm. I came across many student parents who were stuck on their major trying to pass this one year math requirement, but if the institution wanted to help the student succeed, then why is it so difficult for the resources to be funded and allocated for students who need them? The entire institution is not 'STEM Savvy' which is a misrepresentation for UCI. There are many students who struggle with math, me specifically, so here I was, receiving my first F in academia in my first quarter at a UC. I knew if I retook the course, I had to change the resources, and that meant LARC and office hours were not going to benefit me this time around. Spring quarter, I changed my professor (who had 3 T.A.'s) and only taught selective formulas throughout the course conducive to our majors. Finally, the Underground Scholars assisted me by putting out a request/post for anyone who would like to volunteer as a tutor for Undergrad students who were in stats, I met a business student in his PhD ,Parker, who dedicated his time to help me and some of my classmates understand the language of statistics. I met with my new tutor throughout the quarter and I even brought some of my classmates who were struggling as well. We took advantage of his free services and created a group chat amongst each other. His tutoring was more effective than the LARC tutoring which was loud and overcrowded. I am happy to say I passed my stats class with a B!! However, the evidence proves that with the adequate and available resources, we are able to seek them out and succeed. If not, we fail and cannot move to the next level. Why are continuing to put up barriers, instead of breaking down walls?

The second change I'd like to see: I understand the institution is a huge place with many students and a quarter system schedule that seems rushed. However, the perception I get is that professors do not have the desire to get to know their students—fostering a relationship between teacher and student may be imperative to help them succeed. Instead, the development of office hours seems to be more of a student customer service set-up rather than learning about the student and their individual success. Yes, we all were admitted to a #1 research institution (UCI) but that does not mean we don't need the extra assistance and clarity once we arrive here and throughout the academic year, especially for non-traditional students who are becoming more visible on UC campuses. We still would like to feel important, not just looked at like another homework assignment that needs critique. The entire disconnect between professors, their teacher's aide, and the student is confusing at times but has also taught me how to navigate the institution with perseverance, but some students do not have the confidence to do so. In actuality, my academic counselor (shout to Nayeli Lopez) has been one of my strongest allies while being here at UCI and she has been the only one who has checked on me, my academic performance and my well-being. I understand professors are too busy to get to know everyone, but at least ask their name to make them feel of worth. There was ONLY one professor who was from CSUF and taught one night class here at UCI who actually wrote name tags for everyone and genuinely wanted to know who he was calling on, he only taught one course here that was Ethical Leadership and is the only exciting, detail oriented, structured, creative and engaging. It's the only class where I felt the professor truly cared! (Dr. Vincent Vigil).


Well, that was incredible. Thanks to you both for teaching me so much and for sharing your powerful stories. Until the next time!


This piece periodically quotes from Ryan Rising's autoethnographic essay Prison Traumatic Stress Disorder: My Experience with the California Department of Corruption, which will be published by Lucid next year.

Further Reading

Barrera-Rising, Lisandra. “Opinion: After a Cheerleading Injury, My Doctor Became My First Legal Drug Dealer - the San Diego Union-Tribune.” San Diego Union-Tribune, 9 Oct. 2021.Cruz, Ryan P. “UCSB Program Helps Formerly Incarcerated Students.” The Santa Barbara Independent, 23 Dec. 2021.Cruz, Ryan P. “Students Speak Out After UC Santa Barbara Rejects Formerly Incarcerated Students.” The Santa Barbara Independent, Feb. 2022.Rodenas, Paula. “SBCC Student Helps Formerly Jailed Individuals With Education Access.” The Channels, 23 Nov. 2020.San Diego Community College District. “Formerly Incarcerated Students Find New Path Through Education.” SDCCD NewsCenter.
Alberto Lule

Alberto Lule uses readymades, mixed media installations, video, performance, and
tools used by agencies of authority to examine and critique the prison industrial
complex in the United States, particularly the California carceral state. Using his
own experiences, he aims to tie the prison industrial complex to other American
political issues such as immigration, homelessness, drug addiction, and mental
health. Lule creates artworks that explore institutional roles as gatekeepers of
knowledge, authorities of culture, administrators of discipline, and executors of
punishment. He is the recipient of the Public Impact Fellowship, Claire Trevor
School of the Arts, UC Irvine, 2022-2023. The 2020 Kay Nielsen Memorial
Drawing Award, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Alberto received a BA in Art
from The University of California Los Angeles, and is currently pursuing his MFA
from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine.

Cassandra Flores

Hello! My name is Cassandra Flores and I was raised in South El Monte after my parents’ immigrated from Nayarit, México to East LA. I spent my summers in high school exploring politics and multicultural literature. This is where I began to dissect my own cultural identity through the works of writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Oscar Zeta Acosta. I find power in vulnerability and confrontation in all types of writing, including music. The lyricism of artists such as Clairo, Natalia Lafourcade, and Lorde foster an intimacy I hope to capture in my own writing. Things that bring me joy include my cat, Kiwi, dancing, concerts, and crafts that stimulate my creativity! As a student at UC Irvine, I study Social Policy and Public Service and I’ve been dancing with Ballet Folklorico de UCI for two years. My favorite poet at the moment is Yesika Salgado. I resonate with her experiences, the bilingualism in her writing, and aim to one day publish my own poetry book.

Tatyana Hazelwood

Tatyana grew up as a low-income, first-gen, African-American, Panamanian and Mexican student in both Orange County and San Diego, CA. She works as a System-Impacted Peer Mentor and an intern for the LIFTED Program. At UC Irvine, she is a Psychological Science (B.A.) and Criminology, Law & Society (B.A.) double major. Being a system-impacted student herself, she had a difficult upbringing and strives to find healing through success in education to end generational sacrifices. She began writing personal poems in her creative writing course in high school but often felt restricted to the conventional rules of poetry. Her works shared in Issue 4 are her most personal and meaningful poems.

Janellee Hernandez

Hello! My name is Janellee and I am a first-generation college student who was raised in a Guatemalan household. I have always loved how art has been a medium (in any form) that allows people to say something without actually speaking. Whether it’s to communicate a deeper meaning or is just there to simply exist. Photography has been something that I have always enjoyed and found that it is my way of self expression.

John Dayot

John Silvan Dayot is a rising senior at UCI studying English. He recently became an alumni of the award-winning nonprofit program Ghetto Film School (GFS). With a background in film, John wants to grow as a storyteller and develop projects with his community of talented friends. He believes art is always growing and is currently inspired by visual arts and capturing real life/people.

Daniel Le

Daniel Le is a third year student studying psychology with a minor in digital arts. Originally from Cerritos, CA, he enjoys exploring new things with friends, making spotify playlists, getting tattoos, and immersing himself in his Vietnamese culture.

Dontaye Henderson

Dontaye Henderson was raised in Atlanta Georgia and now resides in San Diego, California. He attends UCI studying to earn his BA degree in Sociology. His inspiration comes from his children and loving mother. He desires to use his education to help aid the struggling youth in society as a mentor. He enjoys writing poetry, reading, drawing, and cooking. He is grateful for this opportunity with furthering his education with UCI and plans to be the best version of himself towards everyone he meets.

Victor Lopez

My name is Victor Lopez. I am an incarcerated student at Richard J. Donovan State Prison. Serving a life sentence does not give a father much room to be a positive role model. Educating myself to motivate my daughter Arriana was the best that I could do. My past actions does not define who I am, with or without my freedom, I will contrive to be a better man.

Martha Trujillo

Martha Coral Trujillo is a 28-year-old currently attending Fullerton College to obtain a Paralegal Certificate after having completed a Master's Degree in Criminology, Law and Society. Martha's goal is to become a Criminal Lawyer and to continue to work with supporting youth at risk. Martha continues to write in journals and is currently working on Journal 33. Martha's passion for assisting and serving underrepresented youth has been the motivation for her to continue to reach higher and do more in the Justice System.

Patrick Acuña

Patrick was born in San Gabriel, California but was raised by the carceral system. After three decades of incarceration, he is the first member of UCI’s LIFTED (Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees) to transition to campus as a first-generation senior with an emphasis in Psychological Science and Criminology, Law, and Society. When Patrick isn’t on campus, he volunteers with Guide Dogs of America where he trains dogs for children on the autism spectrum and veterans managing PTSD and/or overcoming combat related mobility impairment. His other passions include backcountry hiking, working out, and traveling. He’s recently returned from a 30-day cross country road trip where he slept on the sidewalk of New York’s Time Square, a back-alley doorway in DC, and the parking lot of a Las Vegas Cracker Barrel.

Yuzhou Michael Ju

Yuzhou Michael Ju, a second-year Sociology major at UCI, is an international student who was born and raised in Chongqing, China. He completed his entire K-12 education in China before coming to the U.S. for college. Yuzhou is particularly interested in immigration studies, with a focus on Chinese Americans. Whenever he visits a Chinatown, he feels curious about the people there: what motivates them to move to a distant place, and how do they establish new homes in an unfamiliar country? First-generation immigrants, in particular, must have made significant commitments to their entire families in order to support the future of their offspring. In his free time, Yuzhou dedicates most of his time to volunteering as a tour guide at art exhibitions or historical relics museums in Chongqing. He guides visitors through exhibitions showcasing Dunhuang Buddhist murals and shares the history of Chongqing's role as the War Capital of China during WWII.

Feliz Aguilar

Feliz is a disabled, non-binary, first-generation, Latinx creator proudly hailing from the East Side of Salinas, CA. They recently graduated from UC Irvine in June 2023, double majoring in Literary Journalism and International Studies. Their passion for learning and experiences as a first-generation student inspired them to question the accessibility of post-undergraduate higher education, leading to the piece featured in this issue. The people fighting injustice around the world are their greatest inspiration, and they hope to continue standing in solidarity with those resisting oppression globally — whether in writing or on the ground.

Helena San Roque

My name is Helena San Roque. I’m a third year Literary Journalism major at UCI. I wrote my piece “Azat Artsakh, Free Us All'' as a nod to my Armenian heritage. However, it’s more than that— it wasn’t until college that I learned about the broad anti-imperialist struggle across various nations in Latin America, Palestine, Armenia, the Philippines, India, etc… In this piece, I talk about Armenia and Palestine: in 2020 the Artsakh war broke out after a decades long armistice between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Israel, which has committed grave atrocities against Palestine, continued to support Azerbaijan in their unjust war against Armenia, resulting in capturing Armenian territory in a trial of human rights abuses. But when your father’s homeland is attacked, what can I, an “American” college student, do? For me, to truly help emancipate my people, the answer was to get educated and organize.

Guadalupe Parra

Guadalupe is a first-generation student majoring in History with the goal of becoming a teacher. She was born in a tiny town in Jalisco, Mexico, and moved to the US with her parents when she was three. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley, surrounded by Mexican culture, and uses that as inspiration in her poetry.

Mariah Rosario

My name is Mariah Rosario and I am a UCI 2022 graduate and alumni. The following portfolio I submitted is my college senior thesis I submitted for my final. It depicts my story of self-emancipation and finding myself through independence and trauma.

Makyla McLeod

Makyla is a Black, first-generation student born and raised in North Carolina. She is currently entering her 3rd year in undergrad with a double major in International Studies and Literary Journalism. As the author of "I Educate", Makyla looked to voice not only her personal experience as the oldest child in a southern Black household looking to further her education, but to also pay homage and express gratitude to the village that continues to help her get there. In her free time, besides writing, she enjoys listening to music, reading, playing video games, and watching horror movies.

Serenity Thu Ritchey

Serenity is a third-year English major from Garden Grove, CA. She has a soft spot for poetry, among other things, like honeycombs, and the color green. She thinks words are pretty sweet and wants to believe in them. (Sometimes she does).

Josie Bitnes

Originally from Washington, Josie is a second year criminology, law, and society major seeking a literary journalism minor. She plans on attending law school to become a criminal defense attorney. In her free time, she skis with UCI’s Ski and Snowboard club and enjoys playing guitar, reading, and being outside in nature.

Corbin Li

Corbin is a first-generation college student studying Civil Engineering at UC Irvine. Growing up in California, they fell in love alongside Pacific air, late night guitar, and bonfires at the beach. Corbin’s passions lie in the intersection between engineering, art, and society, and they look forward to further exploring these topics in future years.

Erik Perez

First and foremost my name is Erik Perez and I am 20 years young. I am an artistic expressionist and Chicano artist. I’m from Southern California where we dream big and plant seeds for the world to flourish.

Francisco Vazquez

My name is Francisco Vazquez and I am 20 years old from the city of Santa Ana–that’s the place I call home. I’ve been in and out of the Orange County Juvenile Hall since the age of 14. I’m on my way to prison and I’m in a different mindset than the one I had 2 years ago when I first got here. In here I like to read, draw, and work out. I got a hidden talent which is to sing and I would like to pursue that upon release. I attend college here and I try to be a role model for my peers. In the future I hope to give back to my community, which I used to terrorize at some point.

Helen Barahona

Helen Barahona recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine (‘23). She double-majored in Political Science (Honors) & Sociology and over the summer she interned in DC with the Shadow Topics team as a research intern at the Political Violence Lab. Prior to working with the lab she served as a student assistant at the UCI Basic Needs Center, and as the managing editor for LUCID through the Dream Project Fellowship. During her free-time she likes to read, write, paint, rate movies on letterboxd and go bike-riding!

Jaaziel de la Luz

I am from Veracruz, Mexico and currently a second year math PhD student at UCI. I enjoy writing, reading philosophy, skateboarding, learning languages, traveling, hiking, jogging, sketching, and doing research. I am passionate about community building and exploring the world.

Juan Jimenez

My name is juan jimenez. 
I’ve been incarcerated for 
just about 5 yrs. In the 
midst of this quest, I’ve 
developed a hobby!
             I’m a writer 
from the ghetto! Don’t you 
disregard my message . . .
Told them all that made me 
feel like I was less than: 
             Here’s a little bout my story. Not a boy. I know 
             I’m destined

Pablo Ramirez

My name is Pablo. They also call me Pablito. At this moment Im placed in JH. In here I’ve learned many things about myself and my surroundings. I’ve learned how the brain works and how trauma affects your thinking. Right now I’m going to high school at the moment. Ima graduate in December. Im excited because I want to go to college. I used to be wild. I didn’t care about life Itself. All I cared about was putting in work for my hood and shit like that. that was me out there. In here Im more calm kick back. I’m changing. This change Im doing is mostly for my family. They need me out there to support them emotionally and financially. I [used to be] the man of the house. At a young age I would work hard and pay my jefa for rent. [My mom] would struggle and that bummed me out, but there were also times where I shit where I slept. Now Im focused on getting my education and learning new stuff every day. Im more open minded. When I get out me voy a poner las pellas to work hard to buy a house for my lil family. I want to be a welder. I wanna learn the art of welding. Im a hands on person. Im thankful for everything I’ve been through. It taught me a lot.

Samog-J Lemon

I am a current student at Irvine Valley College and I'm majoring in communicative disorders. I was born in Anaheim. I love spending time with family and friends; as I got older I realized how important that was. I am a Christian and go to church with my great grandma every Sunday. I like to write poems on the beach; it’s my new way of clearing my mind. I actually do write now to clear my head, something I would’ve never knew I liked but I find therapeutic.

Allan Plata

Born in City of Orange, Ca., my family and I have moved from room to room. Eventually my mother was able to afford an apartment of her own. I always lived in rural areas in the same city then eventually I would get involved with the people in my environment. Father was in and out the picture due to negative habits and mother was either busy or would put her priorities before her own children. My sister was a second mother and also a friend that would try to guide me to do better things for myself, though I was stubborn and didn’t want to listen to what others had to say.

Rachael Collins

Rachael has been an educator and teacher of writing in the California Community College system and at UCI since 2005. A proud homeschooled student, CCC transfer and UC graduate twice over with a PhD in early modern poetry, Rachael is committed to curriculum design that focuses on providing high quality, innovative, and democratically-centered writing instruction to disadvantaged learners, including those who are limited to online learning environments. Drawing upon the multidisciplinary, multimedia work published in Lucid, Rachael's courses focus on the transformative potential of personal writing in higher education. She thinks that when students are given the space and the tools to express themselves, they write beautifully.

Ryan "Flaco" Rising

Ryan Flaco Rising, West Coast Credible Messengers Director and PhD candidate in Criminology Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine, leverages his personal experience as a formerly incarcerated individual to assist others transitioning into higher education at UCI. His research focuses on creating pathways for formerly incarcerated individuals in higher education and analyzing the evolution of related programs. Ryan's advocacy, including founding the Gaucho Underground Scholars Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has played a pivotal role in expanding similar programs across UC campuses. He has received prestigious awards for his work and authored pieces in various publications, showcasing the power of formerly incarcerated individuals in producing innovative solutions and sustainable pathways for their communities, encapsulated in his 'Organic Leadership' theory.

Lisandra Rising

Lisandra is an Undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine majoring in Social Policy and Public Service with a focus on Education. Lisandra serves as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Underground Scholars program at UCI. She is also part of a blended family and lives with her son and daughter who are both 14.

Mia Voloshin

Mia is a Freshman at University High and plays indoor volleyball. On her free time, she enjoys being with her friends, shopping, and going to the beach. She eventually wants to pursue college courses before and after she graduates high school.

Riley Rising

Riley is originally from Montana and moved to CA last year in eighth grade. He is now a Freshman at University High and is involved with jiu jitsu and wrestling at his high school. Riley enjoys skateboarding and free-styling on his free time. He wants to join the marines after he graduates.

Pedro Nieves

Pedro Nieves is a UCI alumni who graduated with a Bachelor's degree in the Arts. Born in Puebla Mexico, he immigrated to the U.S. at 2 years old. After getting involved with the Dream Center and Underground Scholars Initiative, he’s now passionate about advocating for underrepresented communities by using his photography and video production skills. He hopes to become a skilled photographer and creative and looks forward to applying to graduate school to further hone his artistic abilities and create a name for himself in the art world.