My name is Dannie Guzman. Before coming to Rising Sun, I had just served six years on a 15 years-to-life sentence. At 17 years old, I was involved in a situation that shattered entire communities and forever marked the lives of all of those affected directly and indirectly. Stephen Covey once said, “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” I find this quote to be appropriate and applicable to all of us because regardless of what walk we have walked in life or where we were a year ago, each and every single one of us sacrificed what we needed to sacrifice in order to make it here.

When I came across this quote, I found it ironic that I actually knew who Stephen Covey was and I had referred to his teachings a year ago around this time in a group called the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Never did I think I would be quoting him at [Rising Sun’s Women Building the Bay’s] graduation. Never did I believe I would have the opportunity to speak in front of a crowd of people outside of prison walls.

I had been released from prison six days when I went to my PAC meeting at the parole office and met Ester Sandoval from Tradeswomen, Inc. I had picked up several trades in prison, such as painting, glazing, and electrical work. Ester suggested I look into applying for Rising Sun’s all women’s cohort and I literally had about an hour to decide whether or not I would follow through with the program. At this point, I hadn’t even met my parole officer and the anxiety of being out was overwhelming at times. In the blink of an eye, I went from potentially spending the rest of my life in prison, to being free, and now with career opportunities. These last nine weeks have changed my life in a way that I cannot put into words.

Rising Sun has seen me through the dark days. This journey, like many others, was not easy. There were times when I felt like Marlin was hardest on me. Then I remember he has walked a mile in my shoes – or better yet, my prison sandals – and I understand his zero tolerance for the nonsense attitude. Juanita reminds me of my mother and for that she will always be my go-to when I need someone to tell me to get my head out of my ass and keep pushing forward, all while knowing she means it from the heart. Anthony became like that jerk big brother that tells you about yourself with no filter and not once did I feel like he pitied me for my past, and for that, he will always have my genuine friendship and respect. I promised him I wouldn’t ignore his calls after this program is over. Just don’t forget, Anthony, for six years I drank toilet water, so please feel free to feel sorry for me when necessary. Travers was the one I saw least of; however, I always knew his door was always open to me and any of us here at Rising Sun if I needed him.

After today, all of our journeys will continue. Some of us may choose to go our separate ways.

I am not a product of my circumstances; I am a product of my decisions, and today, at 25 years old, I decide to live for this second chance at life – one I believed would never come. I know now through Rising Sun I can reach my highest goals and become an Electrician as a Hispanic female in a field dominated by men, and even then, my journey will not stop there.

“From this moment forward, my goal is to help build the same communities that at a young age I helped shatter.”

For a person that lived in a limited environment for the greater majority of her young adult life, I refuse to limit myself. I was incarcerated six years, and that experience will always be with me. I was out six days, and Rising Sun became a new chapter in my life and also an experience that now will always be with me too. Both situations made me a better version of myself and from this moment forward, my goal is to help build the same communities that at a young age I helped shatter.

My idea today isn’t to instill pity or sympathy, but to channel hope, the same hope I lost throughout the years and thought I wouldn’t believe in again. Hope that together we can help build the Bay Area and all of our communities. The amount of gratitude I have towards Rising Sun and all of its supporters can only be expressed through my actions from this moment forward. For now, these words will have to do. Until then, thank you, and know the purpose each and everyone single one of you carry I now carry it also.

There is one last thing I would like to say to the twenty women who finished this program: we made it! We made it through this and we never know when one day we are going to need one another, so like Miss Regina once told us, never forget why you started.

We got this and it’s only up from here.