"[The students] go in thinking monster… and they come out thinking a man," Jim Micheletti, founder of the "Exercises In Empathy" book club, told CBS News

By Jason Duaine Hahn
January 08, 2021 05:02 PM
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When Sy Green and his family found themselves in financial trouble following a pair of medical emergencies, they received a helping hand from a surprising source.

For nearly a decade, a group of inmates at Soledad State Prison in California have been participating in a book club called "Exercises In Empathy." The club, CBS News reported, invites high school students from Palma School, a boys prep school located in nearby Salinas, to the prison to discuss novels such as 1962's Miracle On The River Kwai with inmates.

The club has proved popular at the prison, and with each book, a bond was forged between the inmates and the students, including Green.

Green was a rising sophomore at Palma when his father underwent a heart transplant and his mother lost her vision after being hit by a softball, according to the Washington Post.

After they both lost their jobs, it seemed like it would be an impossibility for the family to continue paying Palma's $12,900 annual tuition, even if the school provided scholarship assistance.

After inmates at Soledad heard about the young man's struggles, they stepped in to help.

Sy Green

Starting in late 2016, the inmates pooled together what little earnings they had and contributed it to a scholarship for Green that covered most of his tuition, the Post reported.

“I broke down and started crying because I knew where it was coming from,” Sy’s father, Frank Green, told the newspaper of the scholarship, of which about $24,000 came directly from inmates.

The rest of the more than $30,000 scholarship was covered by an $8,000 outside donation.

Jason Bryant, a former inmate who helped to rally others around the scholarship, told the Post that inmates at Soledad were inspired to help by an innate drive to do something positive.

“I think that inherently most people, even those of us who have made the worst decision in our lives, want to be a part of something good,” the 41-year-old said. “This idea when we started was just so good: We can help some young man get a head start that a lot of us didn’t have."

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Over three years, scholarship donations from the inmates ranged from $1 to $100, with most falling between $5 and $10, Bryant said, adding that most inmates earn less than $20 a month from their jobs in the prison.

"[The students] go in thinking monster … and they come out thinking a man. A human being," Jim Micheletti, co-founder of the book club, told CBS News. "They've done bad things, but there are no throwaway people here."

Green recently graduated from Palma and now studies sports broadcasting at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco, according to CNN. He plans to continue visiting the inmates at Soledad during his time off from school.

"That's only the right thing to do," he told the outlet. "Beyond the scholarship, the knowledge that they pour into you, that's the best thing."

He added: "They definitely take my future serious and they genuinely do care about me as a person."