John Cádiz Klemack
Sentenced as an adult after getting into a fight as a 16-year-old, Prophet Walker turned his life around in prison. He will graduate from LMU on Saturday, May 11, 2013. John Cádiz Klemack reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 8, 2013.
Growing up in a racially divided South Los Angeles neighborhood, Prophet Walker found himself deep in that divide at only 16 years old.
"My immediate environment was something that played a huge role in my life," Walker said. "There was just a hub of violence happening and I wanted to get away.”
He describes his surroundings as "plagued with violence" and covered in graffiti.
“I would walk outside as a kid and my head would itch with frustration of where I was at and what my immediate surroundings looked like," he recalled.
In 2004, one moment would change the course of his life.
It was a sunny day and he was off from school when he and couple friends decided to take the train to the beach. When they got off, they were surrounded by a group of Latino men.
“Someone asked what time it was and the response was not very cordial,” he remembers. “What I thought was just a fight that had gone somewhat awry as a 16-year-old turned into me being tried as an adult."
Walker was convicted of assault causing great bodily injury. He admitted to breaking the jaw of one of the men in the group.
He spent nearly six years in state prison.
He started in a juvenile detention center. It was there that he began taking courses that taught him to write. But it didn’t last.
Within two years he was moved to an adult maximum security prison with no such courses. But it was there that he met a man that made him realize what he needed to do to survive.
"I remember telling him I should be in college with the rest of my friends and his response was, 'Well, do it,'” Walker, now 25, recalls with a smile. “'Figure out how to do it.'”
Walker says his grandfather sent him books to read, but it wasn’t for leisure.
"It was Socrates and Plato and Mulier," he said. "And the more I began to read about these guys the more I began to think, 'Well, maybe I can do something with my own life.'"
Walker coupled his reading with his writing and started to change the tone of what he wrote. He focused on his life, what he wanted to do with it. Each essay was more personal than the last.
He wrote to his own daughter, who was waiting for him on the outside.
"I will be able to effectively change the trajectory of her life now. That continues to empower me. She’ll one day, hopefully, be able to change the trajectory of others’ lives,” Walker said.
Walker was able to take college courses and, while still in prison graduated, with an associate’s degree.
His story became an inspiration for other inmates, too.
“I ended up being surrounded by a hundred other guys that wanted nothing more than to change their lives," Walker recalled.
He applied to college as his final days in prison wound down.
And now, on Saturday, he’ll be a graduate of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a degree in engineering.
But perhaps more importantly, he leaves college with this lesson: "If you have a dream, no matter how big, no matter how small, you have to fight for it with everything in you."
And Walker’s journey in life continues. He says he plans to file to run for a seat in the California Legislature, representing Compton, next year.