“I served 15 years in prison, and now owe $268,000 in fines because I sold pot when I was 19 and 20.

“I got out of prison and all of my counselors told me, ‘Jason, you get out there and you make the life you told me you were going to make. We’re so proud. We’re so proud of you. Don’t let this define you. It’s behind you. It’s over with. It has nothing to do with your future.’ So I get three years of parole done in seven months, and I can finally say the number K99397 has no tie to me. It’s not on a piece of paper tied to who I am.

“I went into the work-release program saying I’m trying to go to Harvard or Stanford. And now I’ve got my Stanford admissions letter on their wall inside the center.

“I got into Stanford full ride, all expenses paid. They said, ‘you rightfully got in here.’ When I graduate, no one is going to be able to say, ‘oh he’s just some other criminal.’

“But I got into U[niversity] of I[llinois] with an asterisk. They said ‘you’re going to be on academic and disciplinary probation from the first day until you graduate, and it will never come off your record.’ I took it as an insult.

“Tell me how Illinois is telling me ‘we want you to do the right thing’ when they’re also saying ‘oh we’re going to take every penny you make for the next two decades in fines … after we almost took two decades of your life for something you did when you were a teenager.’

“I wish the state of Illinois would just say ‘you know what, you’re doing everything right. We’re not going to stand in your way.’

“I’m going to come back to Illinois after Stanford. Illinois is my home state. I have to know that I made this place better. The only thing I have to point to my actions in Illinois is that I went to prison. I kind of wanted to go to U of I to say that I went to Illinois’ flagship campus and I made something of myself.

“The criminal justice system, [politicians] haven’t tried to fix it. And they know it’s broken. I’m really just trying to fix the system, and that’s why I want to come back.”

Jason Spyres
Peoria, Illinois