For many, the choice to attend college or university is more a chore than a privilege, but for Evan Trotchie, a 22-year-old Mount Royal University student, it’s a chance to escape his past and reinvent himself.
The chaos after incarceration
Trotchie was released from a maximum security prison seven months ago after serving three years for armed robbery.
Arrested in 2015, he says he was looking for a way out.
“I did it on purpose — no gloves, no mask, nothing,” Trotchie admits. “It was a sense of relief to be taken away from that environment.”
Trotchie wanted to get clean from drugs and saw no option other than jail. He says he was unable to commit to getting clean on his own and couldn’t get a spot at a detox center.
However, once in the system, things didn’t go as planned.
“I got even worse as soon as I went in there ‘cause now I was amongst real people … but they didn’t take care of me, I had to take care of myself,” said Trotchie.
He recalls a troubled childhood that involved gangs, addiction and many visits to the young offenders center.
Trotchie didn’t have a chance to turn his life around until a dangerous altercation with another inmate sent him from a medium security prison to a maximum.
“Once I got stabbed the first time I said, ‘Screw this — these guys ain’t my friends.’”
Involved in multiple violent incidents while in prison, Trotchie came to the realization if he kept on this path, he would die.
Finding the right crowd
Trotchie says he is now seven months clean and enrolled at Mount Royal University in the open studies program. He’s upgrading, with plans to apply for the Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. When he graduates he plans on becoming a youth justice lawyer.
“Honestly, I thought I would be doing construction for the rest of my life ... but my passion is helping youth. If our system was changed and they could have someone guiding them along the way and being a mentor, our society would be a lot better,” said Trotchie.
One of Trotchie’s professors, Geetu Ralen, says it was rare to see such determination from a student. Though Trotchie didn’t have the prerequisite for the course, he insisted on attending and learning what he could.
“He did change my opinion about people having criminal background. I was amazed to see how keen he was to put effort in to have better life,” said Ralen.
Getting out of prison and reintegrating into society has been overwhelming for Trotchie. From dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to having to get used to the freedom, there have been a number of adjustments he needed to make.
For him, even the simple act of riding the C-Train to school is hard.
“I wasn’t used to having that many people around me at a time and everyone was staring at me. Before, if someone was looking you in the eye it was onsite beef in prison, but out here they’re just making eye contact,” said Trotchie.
The transition into university hasn’t been all that smooth either and there have been a number of roadblocks in Trotchies path.
The biggest obstacle has been the difficulty with his parole restrictions and his halfway house. According to the conditions that were first set in place, Trotchie had to work a certain numbers of hours a day and had to be home by 5:30 p.m. This seemed impossible when Trotchie first started school and was taking a full load of courses, including professor Ralen’s class.
“The last place I was at they kept dropping my curfew to 5:30, it made it extremely difficult to do my school work … they say the system is supposed to help you but how is that helping someone in any way?” said Trotchie.
Dr. Harpreet Aulakh is a criminal justice professor at Mount Royal University and an expert on youth justice and gangs. Recently, she asked Trotchie to give a presentation to her first year class however, despite a written note from Auklah that stated he would be out past his curfew, it was still considered breaking Trotchie’s parole agreement.
“I was so upset, I almost wanted to give up but it gave me more of a drive. I’m not going to give anyone the satisfaction of pointing their fingers and saying, ‘Oh see I told you he would mess up,’” said Trotchie.
Through her research, Auklah says that the justice system would be improved if the care could be more personalized to each offender. Often parole officers, social workers and halfway houses are overwhelmed by the number of people they are in charge of looking out for.
“It could have been that he was in a transition period at the time moving from one facility to the next. There might not have been one consistent pair of eyes looking at his file. If you want to change certain conditions on the parole they have to follow the protocol. That could mean going back to his supervisor in charge,” said Aulakh.
Trotchie’s future hangs on his need to help others
Looking forward, Trotchie hopes to leave his past behind him and is relying on a support system of new friends, his girlfriend and mom to keep on the straight and narrow. He is very thankful for everything that has gone right for him and credits a positive attitude combined with his experiences for these changes.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t change a damn thing ‘cause it made me who I am today … the way I look at it is God gave everyone a gift and you just have to find out what that is … my gift is I can use my past experiences to build people up,” said Trotchie.
The one thing Trotchie hopes people know about him is that though he has made mistakes in the past they do not define who he is. He hopes people can see through the tattoos and tough exterior and try to really get to know him.
“I think it’s important that people look at who a person is now and not who they were or the mistakes they have made,” said Trotchie.
After everything he has been through there is not much that scares Trotchie. Whether it’s obstacles or violence, he feels prepared for anything that life will throw his way.
“The only fear I have is spiders, that’s it. I hate spiders,” said Trotchie.
- By Alannah Page