“Do you know Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave?” Reggie asks. He uses this story to explain how we can be imprisoned by the limitations of our own thoughts. “There’s more to life than what’s in front of us.”
Reggie Hola and Saia Vake are cousins who work on ACT’s paid phone banking team, and students studying Communications and Engineering respectively at Sacramento City College. But long before this, these young men grew up together in a close-knit Tongan community in South Sacramento. While the connections of family ran deep, the forces of poverty, violence, lack of role models and disenfranchisement overwhelmed them. Their parents were immigrants, working hard to support their families of 9 and 5 children. Reggie talked about his father who did backbreaking work in construction and would come home with his back blistered from the sun, and still they lived paycheck to paycheck. Reggie wanted to be able to provide for his family another way, but he was only surrounded by drug dealers, pimps and gang members. He was in and out of the juvenile justice system, ending up in prison
Saia also was gang-involved and was involved in a shooting while he was trying to protect his brother. He ultimately agreed to serve 5 years as long as his brother was released, and Saia was sent to prison. He did his time, and was released and sought a different path.
For both Saia and Reggie, the first years in prison were especially rough. They both said they only knew how to deal with problems through violence, and so the violence continued. Both remember the prison environment as anti-social.
Reggie described the process of beginning to read self-help books in prison and to look within himself. Two programs were key in offering job training and rehabilitation services while in prison: The Last Mile and Code.7370. The Last Mile offered training in business, creating a business plan, research and ultimately pitching the plan under the guidance of business people who came into San Quentin to teach the inmates. Code.7370 trained inmates in coding, and in developing websites and apps. Through these programs he learned that, “some of us have a growth mindset, and some of us have a fixed mindset. Sitting in my cell, my mind was fixed, this is what I thought life was. With a fixed mind, no matter where I was, I was already in prison.” Reggie quoted Harriet Tubman: “I freed thousands of slaves, and could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.”
When Reggie was released from prison, he became involved with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), and devotes his time now to creating positive paths for youth. When Saia was released, Reggie got him involved in ARC as well. “I didn’t even know what I was getting into,” Saia said smiling. But Saia was drawn to his cousin’s positive vibes, and they have found a partnership where they help each other out. When one is struggling, the other lifts him up; when one is frustrated, the other talks him down. Together they create a positive path and keep each other out of trouble. “We know what the bottom looks like. We need to take that step and move forward.” Reggie’s little brother told him, “Seeing you two do this together, you are the reason I don’t give up.”
Grateful for the people who took a chance on him, Reggie works to offer alternatives to youth: “It takes just one of us to go back and pull one out.” He works to break the school to prison to deportation pipeline that looms for many young people in his community.
Reggie heard about the opportunity to phone bank with Sacramento ACT through ARC, and recruited his cousin Saia. Together the two are very successful phone bankers. “It’s all in the voice,” they tease each other. Getting this job gives them hope; it is hard to get a job with a record. They commented on the opportunity to develop interview skills, self-discipline, collaboration, and a work ethic. They get to meet and talk with different people, develop social skills, and give and take input in a work environment. Together they are taking another step on their path to a positive future.