Getting to Know You: Jeremiah Kitavi, Rehabilitation Reform Advocate

Jeremiah Kitavi is a junior enrolled in Sociology at Sonoma State University, as well as a community volunteer.

Born and raised in the Bay Area of California, Jeremiah maintains a busy lifestyle between his academic pursuits, his full-time job in the retail industry, and his role as a volunteer among youth.  Jeremiah believes exercise—both the activity itself and the rich philosophy underpinning it—hold the key to conquering many of life’s problems, as they teach discipline, spirituality, and patience, as well as physical fitness.

After graduating, it is Jeremiah Kitavi’s intention to become an advocate for rehabilitation reform within the criminal justice system, focusing particularly on mental health assistance for prisoners. His passion for reform has led him to schedule speaking engagements at local high schools to discuss the subject, and illustrate how, if left unchecked, the present state of the penal system could lead to dire consequences, both for inmates and for society at large.

Beyond academics, a penchant for the exercise , and his fierce advocacy for reforming the prison system, Jeremiah Kitavi has learned many valuable lessons from the so-called ‘school of hard knocks.’ However, despite that, he is resolved to live his life as a champion, always ready and willing to take on new challenges and oppose injustices in the world.

What are you currently doing in college? And what are you looking forward to?

I am a junior at Sonoma State University, majoring in Sociology. After completing my degree, I plan to become an advocate for mental health reform within the criminal justice rehabilitation system. Many individuals exiting prison/jails are made to feel ‘less than’ other people without a criminal record, which only leads to difficulties upon re-entering society. Success in this respect can only come when an individual learns to become emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy. However, these skills are not currently taught to those who are incarcerated. The teaching of these skills is critical to properly rehabilitating people, and for reshaping the future of criminal justice for the better.

Outside of that, the thing that brings me the most joy and fulfillment in life is feeling connected with my family, friends, and my community.  Having a spiritual philosophy that teaches the virtues of discipline, hard work, kindness, understanding, patience, and integrity, and these elements can be translated and incorporated into all other aspects of life. I believe everyone would benefit from involvement in effective exercise. But it’s not easy. People have to be willing to put in the work. It requires great physical and spiritual discipline.

What was the inspiration behind getting into criminal justice reform?

I’m passionate about making an impact on society for the greater good. I chose criminal justice reform because of my experience and from what I learned from others of what it takes to move forward in a positive way after such a traumatic and life-altering experience. People are released from prison/jails without jobs or access to adequate services to learn how to overcome the obstacles unique to their situation.

I also understand how society at large chooses to shame and discredit ex-convicts rather than forgive and include them in a community. What’s even crazier about all this is that many private prisons benefit from free prisoner labor and receive financial incentives for maintaining high prison populations. All of this has to change, and changing it has to begin with compassion, the provision of mental health services to those in prison, and fostering stability for each individual who has paid their debt to society.

What keys to being productive can you share?

The key to being productive is pushing forward—even if you don’t want to. Many times, people put mental barriers in place to prevent them from doing what must be done. There are times we all feel like not doing certain things. It happens to me, too! But you have to remove emotion from the equation, think logically, and get things done. You have to learn how to manage emotions and focus on the task at hand, as well as the larger the goal. That’s the secret to increasing productivity.

Can you share one long-term career goal?

When I consider my long-term career and how I obtain assets, I often think the best place for me to do that is in East Africa. My dad immigrated from East Africa  from the city of Nairobi in Kenya. I want to go there and assist with agriculture. I’d like to reinvest in the community and country that I have a connection with. It may seem a bit atypical, but it is one of my long-term career aspirations.

How do you measure success?

Success is subjective. Success is very similar to productivity. It means doing the hard things, even when you don’t feel like doing them. Success can manifest itself in small accomplishments like making your bed, going out for a run, being kind to a stranger, or being the best employee possible by providing outstanding customer service. I think a lot of success has to do with building empathy and integrity, and endeavoring to become a better person every day.

What advice would you give to others who are considering a career either as a criminal justice reform advocate or in a related field trying to create positive change?

I cannot emphasize too strongly that change of any kind begins from within. This is true of anybody at any age. Many people want to make changes but do not actually want to change their mindset or behavior. I know this from personal experience. I had to change myself in a number of important ways before I was equipped to help anybody else. Personal growth is changing. It could be through learning a new language, listening to audiotapes, reading books, volunteering in your community, or simply being self-sufficient. Regardless of the way you try to change, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses so that you can recognize how to become better. If you want to change things in your life, you have to do the work.

What are some of your favorite things to do when you’re not at school or work?

I enjoy volunteering in the community and just being active with different groups of people. I also enjoy going to the gym and working out, as well as reading books. It all goes back to personal growth. Americans, in general, don’t spend enough time on personal growth.

How would your colleagues describe you?

My colleagues would describe me as efficient and hard-working with a great predilection for customer service. I’m reliable, and I make people feel comfortable and welcome. I think they would also recognize me as a person that has integrity.

What is one piece of technology that helps you the most in your daily routine?

The piece of technology I use the most is definitely my cell phone. Beyond being an indispensable tool for communication, I use it to listen to podcasts and motivational speeches. A lot of people don’t realize how powerful a cell phone can be. You can use it to really learn a lot.

Do you have any advice for people who are juggling busy schedules to remain productive?

My advice would be to focus on what’s important and what you can control. Realize what you can’t control and then just let it be.

What’s one piece of advice you would like to leave for our readers?

If you look for the negative, you will always find it. If you look for the positive, you will grow.

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