February 07, 2018

My education continues

By Kepa Maumau

My name is Kepa Maumau. I am Tongan. I was raised in Glendale, and I feel a connection to this community. I find it fitting to share my reality in ITALICIZE The West View. I hope my words speak to people everywhere regardless of where they're from, their race, nationality, age or gender. I am contributing to ITALICIZE The West View in hopes of improving lives in my community and wherever these words may land.

I've spent nearly a decade behind bars, but my education continues. This is where I discovered that education is more than what we learn in a classroom. It took a 55-year prison sentence for my old self to die and to give birth to a new me, a new awareness. I know others in my community do not need to experience 55 years in prison to learn the lessons I learned. It only takes an open heart and mind towards what I have to share.

To kids everywhere: make the most of the opportunities given to you through school, and just as important, do not join gangs. To parents, hold close relationships with your kids and support them in all that they do to attain their goals.

I attended Edison Elementary Glendale Middle School. My time in high school was divided among East, American Fork, and Granger High Schools. Part of the split time was due to getting in trouble and being placed elsewhere. Upon graduation, I attended Weber State University and a community college in Glendale, Arizona.

My education path started off well enough. In elementary, my focus and attention was completely invested in lessons during school. I believe this was possible because I did not have to stress about the things my parents stressed about, like bills and taking care of the family. I loved learning. I loved my teachers and my classmates. My teachers were always nice, respectful and caring. This made school an environment where I could learn freely. I was in a program for gifted students. I enjoyed playing all sports. I had few worries.

As I approached my adolescent years, my tendencies were directed in negative ways. We found other ways of having fun. But what was fun for me was also destructive. The curious learner in me became curious about drugs, alcohol and crime, which led to juvenile detention. Not cool. I was an honor roll student who was lured by the stimulation of worldly things, rather than the education school provided – education that offered a promising future.

I am choosing not to explain the details of the troubles I've been in and out of for a number of reasons. It is no secret that I've been charged and convicted as a gang member. This kind of life has been mistakenly glorified and I am here to be your reality check. Do not join gangs. There is no future in it. Help yourselves and your families by staying in school. My family and friends have suffered because of my incarceration.

I do not wish to see any kids from my community next to me in prison. I know the potential and talent we have in our neighborhoods, but to see it all go to waste is disheartening for me. I recognize the destruction gangs and crime can cause for my community's future and my family's future.

Just as I have been a part of the problem through my ignorance, I have been enlightened to be part of the solution. My contribution comes in the form of awareness.

What a kid is learning outside of school can impact that kid’s performance in school, and in effect, life. Knowing this, we should ask ourselves, “What are we doing or helping to teach in our homes and our community?” The answers can make the difference in whether a child succeeds.

My wish for young kids everywhere, especially in my community, is to stay on track with their education and decision-making. I have learned that we have the ability and power to overcome outside conditions.