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CNN TV Documentary Series Features Student-Athlete’s Incredible Journey to Art School

School of Communications & Media Technologies freshman and basketball player Syon Green came to Academy of Art University with funding from prison inmates. This is the premise of the extraordinary story of Green featured in CNN’s TV documentary series, This is Life with Lisa Ling

The episode, which aired on November 29, followed the story of Green, from the moment he joined the life-changing program which introduced him to the inmates who helped him finish high school, until the time he found out he was going to be able to pursue his dream to attend Academy of Art through a basketball scholarship. 

Big Dreams, Rare Opportunities

Green was a freshman high school student at Palma School, a private Catholic prep school, when he joined the “Exercises in Empathy” program. For eight weeks, students participated in the Soledad State Prison’s “Life CYCLE (Careless Youth Corrected by Lifers’ Experiences) program, which featured a book club joining both students and inmates.

syon green graduation
Syon Green graduating from Palma High School, thanks to the funds raised by the inmates from Soledad State Prison.

However, in his sophomore year, both Green’s parents suffered medical emergencies and surgeries, putting his ability to continue his education at risk. He needn’t have worried, as it turns out, because the inmates already had a plan in place to help him out.

According to the high school’s English and Theology teacher, Jim Michelleti, the inmates, called “brothers in blue” in the program, approached them with a surprising offer. “They said, ‘We value you guys coming in. We’d like to do something for your school. Can you find us a student on campus who needs some money to attend Palma?’”

That student in need turned out to be Syon Green, and with the help of the $30,000 funds the brothers in blue raised from inside prison, he was able to finish his education at Palma, which then allowed him to pursue his Communications degree at the Academy. 

‘Brothers in Blue’ Step Up to the Plate

syon green-scholarship
Syon Green describes his relationship with his “Brothers in Blue” as being like family.

The funds were raised through carrying out various labor tasks in prison, which amounted to as low as 8 cents per hour. This fact makes it all the more incredible to know that they were able to raise that much funds for this cause. 

One of the inmates who donated his entirely $100 monthly paycheck to Green’s cause, Reggie, said, “I get paid to do what I do, so, why not pay it forward and give it to someone else for a change?”

When Green’s parents found out, they could not help but feel moved. “It brought me to tears, said Frank Green, saying that it “was truly a blessing. It was unheard of.”

Awarding the raised funds to Green was an experience in itself. For the inmates, it felt like they were actually making an investment, while for Green, it was like he had to make a pitch to win over investors. 

“In front of my parents and maybe 20 guys, they had me stand in front of the whiteboard and give my 10-year plan,” he narrated. That was the toughest session because they were really grilling me and trying to see where my head was at. They went into depth with everything and that really showed me the passion they had.”

A Bright Future Ahead with the Academy

syon green-sf chronicle
Syon Green in his ART U Basketball team uniform with Palma High School teacher Jim Michelleti. Image courtesy of SF Chronicle.

In his new community with the Academy of Art University ART U Men’s Basketball team, Green’s story serves as an inspiration. “Syon’s community service in the prison system is a testament to the fine young man he is,” said Head Coach Scott Waterman. 

“It has been a pleasure to get to know him over the past few months and we look forward to his growth and development, both on and off the court over the next four years.”

Since he left Palma, Green has maintained his connection with his brothers in blue. Of his whole experience meeting these men, “I always felt welcome and never had any issue. Going in, I was a little nervous because you only know what you see on television, but it was never that. Our interactions were always respectful and I always got a lot of knowledge from those guys; it really felt like a family.”

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