From prisoner to Ph.D.


By Jake Markowitz

A three-time convicted felon who turned his life around shared his story with Iowa City residents on Nov. 4 in a lecture titled “From Prison to Ph.D.”

As part of the Witching Hour festival dedicated to exploring the unknown, creative process, and new work, Jason Sole described his journey, which began in the streets of Chicago.

“When you’re growing up in the South Side of Chicago, when you’re trying to find places to actually save you out of a gloomy situation, it’s hard to find them,” Sole said. “It’s hard to find the exit strategy.”

Sole now works as an assistant professor at Metropolitan State University, but his life didn’t always seem to be heading down that road. Born to a father with a heroin addiction, Sole’s life was also eventually consumed by substances when he joined a gang and began selling drugs.

“I can’t get a job, but this guy right here on the corner has definitely got a way to make $800 in a week. I just hate that I played that game,” Sole said. “I speak with a lot of regret, because I hate that I played that game.”

His mother sent him to Waterloo after finding his drugs, and Sole excelled in school and enlisted to serve in the U.S. Air Force. However, he was eventually turned down because of his asthma condition. The denial sent him back to life in Chicago, where he ran into trouble with police and wound up in prison.

“I’m talking about going to fight for what I feel is my country and then you deny me,” Sole said. “You know, that took me back a little bit.”

After being released from jail for a third time, Sole dedicated his life to becoming educated in order to get out of the streets.

He began talking to a new circle of people who improved the road he was heading, eventually leading him to become the president of the Minneapolis NAACP. Sole stands on the frontline of many protests against police brutality and the unequal treatment of African Americans.

“All the work that he’s been doing is amazing,” said Andre Wright, a staff member of Iowa City Area Development Group and one of Sole’s good friends. “It is such an honor to be able to host him in our city.”

The emotion of Sole’s story moved several members of the audience.

“He was such a good speaker,” UI junior Hailey Tucker said. “You can feel the regret he has for many of his past actions but also the gratefulness he has for the platform he now has. It was such an amazing story.”

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