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College of Education > News and Publications > 2019: 04-06 news > In his own words: Student Divine Lipscomb tells his story

In his own words: Student Divine Lipscomb tells his story

Divine Lipscomb, a student majoring in rehabilitation and human services, was the featured speaker on the second day of the Prison Education and Reentry summit held in the College of Education on March 29-30.

**Editor's note: Divine Lipscomb, a student majoring in rehabilitation and human services, was the featured speaker on the second day of the Prison Education and Reentry summit held in the College of Education on March 29-30. What follows is his story, in his own words:

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Divine Lipscomb shared his story to begin day two of the Prison Education and Reentry Summit, March 30, 2019. ''Efrain [Marimon] was doing something on this campus that no one else was doing. He was impacting lives. He was changing minds. He was introducing education. HE was doing what I was looking for 16 years ago. How could I not be involved with that?'' he said of his involvement with the Restorative Justice Initiative.
My name is Divine Liscomb. I am a native New Yorker. Born, bred, fed. I'm also a transplant into Pennsylvania. I've been here about 10 years.

I come from a blended family. Dad wasn't around until I was 10, so the man who raised me, he gave me a set of morals and values that I didn't learn to appreciate until he left. When a new man came into my life, he was abusive. He was a drug addict. He did all the things that a man is not supposed to do. Lo and behold, Daddy shows up. He's still no good to no one.

The streets found me. I found drugs. I found alcohol. They became my passion. They became my best friend. I didn't know that those drugs were important because I was buried in traumas – sexual, emotional. You know, those stories that we don't talk about, especially as men. Those things that we bury, because society doesn't give us that room to talk about it. I was an angry kid, quiet, isolated. So naturally, when New York City found gangs, or gangs found New York City, I was a prime candidate. I was being groomed, before I even knew what being groomed was. I was running those dark streets with my stepfather while he was cheating on my Mom 'cause I didn't know no better.

School? What's school? I'm not going to school. I can't go to school. If I go to school, when I come home, will my Mama be alive? C'ause they was just drinking last night.

All of that's irrelevant, because the educational system. They failed. How did this "A" student run around with knives all of a sudden? Why? Why did I just disappear from attending class?

The justice system. They failed. Fourteen years old. That was a heinous robbery. What kid? What normal kid would beat and rob someone like that? Ah, no, we're just gonna lock him up. Those guys from Brownsville, that's what they do. They're just menaces. We're just gonna lock him up, put him away. So that's what they did. They put me in a juvenile detention center.

I was eligible for a program as a youthful offender. They released me, still smoking weed, so I had to go to a drug treatment program, where I FIRST discovered that I had emotions that I needed to deal with, that I had traumas. But I was 15. I didn't know what to do with these emotions. Those long, therapeutic sessions, where you uncover all that grit, right? Then they just abandon you with it. And then they let you back out into society and say, "Oh, just go to school, you're good." No! He's still beating my Mama. I'm gonna kill this man, eventually. I didn't. I learned to forgive him at some point.

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Divine Lipscomb, a student majoring in rehabilitation and human services, was the featured speaker on the second day of the Prison Education and Reentry summit held in the College of Education on March 29-30. As he told the summit participants, ''Penn State is special. Everything that everyone here does is special. See because we can't save the world, but there's one person in these here organizations, just one who's looking for you to give him that shot. I just need you to let me in, and I'll take care of the rest. I don't need you to do anything else but open that door.''
But not before the system caught me again. This time for four years. State penitentiary. What did they teach me at the state penitentiary? How to survive? I mean the streets taught me that before I got there.

I started reading. A lot. Especially in the Special Housing Unit. Seventeen, 18, I'm locked away in solitary confinement. The only things I had were my books. I got my GED, released back into population, then they let me go. I'm free! Wow! At 20 years old, I'm back home. Mentally I'm still that same 16-year-old kid though. I don't know how to deal with those emotions. "Well, the nature of your crime doesn't allow us to help you in this program. Maybe you should go check out this other program." "Oh, wait, you've been out too long, so we can't help you in this program."

So, I stumbled through life. The only thing I did know was I wanted to go back to school. So, I went. The first thing I noticed on my application, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" Of course! Who hasn't? We're from Brooklyn. It's unnatural to ask me that question.

I applied to Penn State three times. They told me I would NEVER … "Divine, I'm sorry, I advocate for you a lot, but Penn State's never gonna hire you. You have felonies." Ha, OK, watch me. The thing is, there wasn't any real programming, that we do. This reentry work. Nobody taught me how to go through rejections, nobody taught me how to be a Daddy. Nobody taught me how to just be me. Nobody taught me that that trauma that was sitting in my gut festering needed to be taken care of. Nobody taught that me I had to leave that addiction.

"You smoke any more marijuana Mr. Lipscomb, we'll lock you back up." Well, they sell alcohol in the liquor store. That's legal. That'll come right outta my system really fast. So, I became an alcoholic – the best and worst thing that ever happened in my life. See because, being an alcoholic brought me here. It brought me to a situation, many, many situations, many dark nights when I was just like, "I've got to do better than this." There's somebody waiting for me on the other side.

'Cause, in my mind, I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to open this T-shirt company, which I did. I'm gonna start a program, 'cause being an entrepreneur allowed me to be self-sufficient and nobody could tell me, "I'm not going to hire you." Wait – maybe I can help you become an entrepreneur. How do I do that? Birth of my program. I said, hey! I have this idea guys, is anybody going to help me? "Ah, that's a great idea, but ...

I said, you don't want to help me? OK, that's fine. It brought me to Penn State. But when I got to Penn State, I was like, Where are my people at? "Oh, the Paul Robeson Cultural Center is down that way, Divine, you can find your people." I'm not talking about black people. I see them every day. If I want to hang out with them I know where to find them. "Oh, you can go to the Adult Learner Center, you're an adult learner." I don't want to be with them old people. "You're not old, don't take offense to that."

Where are the convicted felons? This is Penn State. Statistically, there have to be more justice-impacted individuals here. Why can I not find them? I wasn't supposed to find them. I was supposed to find Efrain [Marimon]. Because Efrain was doing something on this campus that no one else was doing. He was impacting lives. He was changing minds. He was introducing education. HE was doing what I was looking for 16 years ago. How could I not be involved with that?

Penn State is special. Everything that everyone here does is special. See because we can't save the world, but there's one person in these here organizations, just one who's looking for you to give him that shot. I just need you to let me in, and I'll take care of the rest. I don't need you to do anything else but open that door.

Efrain, you're opening up doors, sir. For that, I'm humbled and thankful. Dean [David] Monk, thank you. Dean [Maria] Schmidt, awesome. See, because I wasn't supposed to find the justice-impacted. I was supposed to find my family in the College of Ed.

Because even as an adult learner, life shows up. Wife moved, she took a job. I found myself homeless and at my mother's house. College of Education stepped in. "Look, dude, we got you. Just come to school, get trained, do what you gotta do. We will take care of you." So I show up and show out 'cause I put in the work so others can say "We Are ..."