Ginny Oshiro credits Project Rebound with helping her get into Cal State Fullerton, making her feel comfortable there and encouraging her to seek out the social justice component of her criminal justice major.
And as she neared graduation, it was Brady Heiner, executive director of the program that works to provide formerly incarcerated students with a pathway to higher education, who gave her a lesson in self-worth.
When Oshiro told him she had applied to UC Irvine, and that she would be lucky to get accepted, Heiner told her to apply for at least nine more programs.
“And when nine out of the 10 programs to which she applied, including the top five Criminology Ph.D. programs in the country, aggressively recruited her, Ginny not only gained valuable experience attending multiple paid campus visits across the northeast,” Heiner said. “She also received incontestable confirmation that the best programs in the country would be very fortunate to have her.”
Oshiro ended up accepting the UCI offer for its five-year program, Criminology, Law and Society.
“Throughout my time here I’ve had a number of advocates. I respect these people so much and if they believe in me I should probably believe in myself, even if just a little bit,” Oshiro said with a laugh.
It’s not hard to see why they believe in Oshiro. The 30-year-old is graduating with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and a minor in Asian American Studies and was the recipient of several honors, including the Tuffy’s Award Titans Leaving a Legacy. Last year she won the award for Best President for her leadership of the Rebound Scholar program and she has been on the Dean’s List every semester.
She is a member of the Criminal Justice Honor Society and received a number of scholarships, including the John Irwin Memorial Merit Scholarship and the 2019 Project Rebound Award for Outstanding Leadership. She also served a fellowship with the Women’s Policy Institute.
“Ginny exemplifies the abiding social and personal value of second chance higher education,” Heiner said. “She’s a wonderful person.”
Oshiro said UCI’s Criminology, Law and Society program appeals to her because it adds a law and policy lens to criminal justice. She plans to focus on corrections and programs in prison, specifically prisoner-led programming.
“I think as someone who has been mentored by formerly incarcerated people, it’s been this community that has transformed my life,” said Oshiro, who has battled addiction that started when she was a teenager and left her homeless and locked in a cycle of jail and unsuccessful attempts at treatment. “I think it’s really hard for people to accept that we are what has shaped each other.
“And having had that experience and having transformed as a result of it, I know that the same mechanism is happening inside the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and so I’m really interested in that aspect of it.”
Oshiro grew up in Sacramento with supportive parents who had gone to college and taught her the benefits of higher education. She said she still regrets the times she promised to change her life but couldn’t, despite her best intentions.
“It was interesting, higher education has always been really important to me so I thought that was going to be the solution to my problem,” Oshiro said. “But it just wasn’t possible for me to engage in higher education and also deal with addiction and a lifestyle that wasn’t really conducive to getting an education.”
She attended Cal State Sacramento for a time but dropped out. Then she came to Southern California, where she got involved in a 12-step program, was certified in drug and alcohol counseling and worked four years in treatment programs for women.
Oshiro enrolled at West Los Angeles College, and in 2017 got an associate of arts degree in administration of justice while she was working full time.
Her experiences sparked her interest in criminal justice, and when she started at Cal State Fullerton in 2018 Oshiro wanted to work with the probation department or juvenile corrections.
“But then I realized I can’t work for probation, that’s not possible for me because of my background,” she said. “I’m not going to work in any type of law enforcement.”
That’s when Project Rebound Program Director Romarilyn Ralston, who had helped usher Oshiro through the CSUF admission process and brought her into the program, started inviting her to the conferences and symposiums that introduced Oshiro to the social justice-oriented reform work that would become her mission.
At a 2018 conference sponsored by the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement in Florida, she met organizers from all over the country and got a chance to work on phone and text banks and knock on doors in support of Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights in the state to people previously convicted of felonies. The amendment was approved by voters in November of that year.
“That was a pivotal moment for me,” Oshiro said about the conference. “It was an entirely different realm of criminal justice that I could engage in. I instantly became interested because I didn’t know it was possible and I’m highly critical of the criminal justice system. But I don’t just get to be critical, I have to educate myself to understand what’s wrong.”
Her decision to minor in Asian American studies was a benefit in two ways, Oshiro said. It provided an extra component — ethnic studies — to what she wanted to get out of her criminal justice major.
“It’s about how people of color have been marginalized,” she said. “It’s about the systemic oppression that the criminal justice system reinforces.”
It also gave her more confidence as a multiracial person, she said. Her mother is white and her father is Japanese.
“I’ve never really understood what that means in how I fit in in my community,” Oshiro said. “Sometimes people don’t know how to treat me. I had somebody tell me yesterday, ‘Oh, I thought you were white.’ I don’t really know how to answer that.”
Her Asian American Studies courses have helped her learn to love that part of herself, she said.
“I can embrace it and be OK with being mixed,” she said. “I’ve always felt the pressure to say I’m Japanese or say I’m white. But I’m really both, or neither, it doesn’t matter.”
Oshiro points out that it took her 13 years to get her bachelor’s degree. But at the end of it, she also is entering a Ph.D. program. And two weeks ago, she got engaged.
“It’s been an epic journey of redemption for me personally but also with my family,” she said. “My parents have been able to watch me start something and finish it, no matter how hard it was, no matter what obstacles I came up against, no matter how many times I called them crying.”
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