Former Juvenile Inmate Advances to State Assembly General Election
LOS ANGELES — The walls of Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, Calif., were hardly unfamiliar to Prophet Walker. As a teenager, Walker spent nearly half of his six-year prison sentence at Ironwood after he was convicted of assault causing great bodily injury and robbery at the age of 16.
This June, Walker, now 26, returned to Ironwood. However, this time it was not as a prisoner, but as a candidate for state office and a role model to the young men who stand where Walker stood just several years ago.
“When I walked in to Ironwood and they called my name to go up to speak, the entire place erupted with people screaming and cheering,” Walker recounts. “When I walked away, people were saying that I had inspired them. These are people who have life sentences and to have them say I inspired them was great. It was really moving.”
Walker has certainly had to overcome a fair share of obstacles in his life. He grew up in a South Los Angeles neighborhood known for its high crime rates. As a child, he watched his mother battle a serious drug addiction.
Throughout his teenage years, Walker got into fights often. During one particularly violent altercation, Walker broke another boy’s jaw and then took the victim’s CD player. Walker was tried as an adult due to the severity of the crime and ultimately received a six-year prison sentence.
Walker didn’t let these obstacles prevent him from striving for success. While he was in prison, Walker continued to further his education by participating in various academic programs, and he eventually received his high school diploma. After he was released, Walker attended Loyola Marymount University where he completed a degree in engineering and went on to find a job as a project manager for a California construction company.
Now Walker is taking on a new type of challenge.
With no previous experience in politics, Walker decided to declare his candidacy for the California State Assembly District 64 race. The seat is currently held by Democrat Isadore Hall, and the district represents parts of South Los Angeles and surrounding areas including Carson, Compton, Watts, Wilmington and North Long Beach.
In June, Walker placed second in the primary election for the 64th district seat. Walker took home 21.4 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Carson City council member Mike Gipson, topped Walker with 51 percent. Steve Neal and Micah Ali came in third and fourth respectively in the election.
All four of the candidates running for office, including Walker, were members of the Democratic Party. A recent measure approved by California voters in 2010 permits the top two candidates to advance from the primary to general election, regardless of political party affiliation.
“To come in second, we beat out two well-oiled politicians,” Walker says. “There was a strong showing, although not the best, and we have a lot of ground to gain between now and November.”
Walker will now be going head-to-head against Gipson in the November general election (Gipson’s office has not offered comments after numerous requests for an interview.). Gipson has a more extensive political background than Walker, having won three city council elections in Carson. In 2009, Gipson even set a new city record for receiving the most votes of any municipal candidate in Carson’s 41-year history. Gipson’s past experience and wide base of support may prove to be an obstacle for Walker.
“It’s really important for us to continue securing more local and community support,” Walker explains. “We also are looking for more financial support. Both of these things will be huge.”
Walker has already gained the recognition of many community groups and organizations as well as several well-known figures in the entertainment industry.
While he was at Ironwood, Walker met former film producer Scott Budnick, who mentored Walker as part of an educational writing program called InsideOUT Writers at the prison. In addition, Walker has since gained the support of several Hollywood stars including Reese Witherspoon, Matt Damon and Tyrese Gibson.
Yet, despite the big names that are supporting him, Walker is undoubtedly the underdog in the upcoming election. Scott Lay, a political analyst specializing in California politics and publisher of aroundthecapitol.com, a site capturing headlines and opinions on politics and policy, says that it will be an uphill battle for Walker and his campaign team.
“Looking at the numbers, you have to assume that Prophet has to get every vote that Neal and Ali got and a few more in order to beat Gipson in November. June was a low turnout election and November will be higher, so that gives Gipson a little more of an edge as well,” Lay explains.
“Prophet has to find a way to get out his personal story and translate what that means for policy in Sacramento. His ability to transcend normal Democratic Party politics because of his personal story gives him a shot.”
No matter what the outcome of the general election is, Walker says he won’t forget the real reason he’s running for office.
“I want to constantly convey to young people that even if things are tough, you can accomplish things. It’s not going to be easy, but you still have to look yourself in the mirror and think you’re great and can do anything,” Walker says.
“On a more tangible level, I think my story can further discussion about the juvenile justice system and show why we should be encouraging our youth. People can say at 16, he was just thrown out, but look where Prophet is now.”
Walker also hopes that he can continue to bring a unique voice to legislators in Sacramento.
“I want my story to show that this is why we need to have more money and services put into rehabilitation programs and not into the mass production of more prisons,” Walker says. “My goal is to one day be doing pure prevention, and our kids won’t ever end up being incarcerated.”
Even though he’s busy working on his campaign, Walker never loses sight of what’s ultimately most important. Walker’s own daughter, Priya, will be going into fourth grade this fall, and is a constant source of motivation for the politician. In addition, he says all of the kids he meets every day continue to inspire him.
“Throughout the course of the campaign, one of the coolest things has been kids coming to the campaign office, making books and pictures for us and saying ‘Prophet believes in us’ or things like that,” Walker says. “Being able to have young people in the community come into the campaign office not only as a place of inspiration, but almost as a safe haven as well, where they can be protected is moving. It’s just overall very moving.”
Based on the support that he has already garnered so far, it is clear that Walker’s efforts will not go unnoticed. Lay says that Walker’s campaign will likely have a lasting effect on state policy and the mentality toward the correctional system in California.
“Regardless of what happens in this election, I think there’s a growing conversation about the rehabilitation element of the correctional system that he’s highlighting,” Lay says. “Gipson is a favorite, and even if he wins, Prophet might push Gipson to make rehabilitation more of a priority in Sacramento more than he otherwise would have on his own. Just getting Prophet’s story out there and getting people to think differently about how we treat people in the correctional system, whether they’re in state prison or rehabilitation getting a second chance at life, will have an impact.”
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