In this episode, Raquel Neris interviews Alan Cata, a BMCC graduate, a member of the Out in Two Program, and a shining example of resilience and transformation.
Alan Cata Interview
Check out more information about organizations that Alan mentions in his interview:
WELCOME TO OPENLAB STUDENT VOICES, THE PODCAST WHERE WE AMPLIFY THE STORIES AND EXPERIENCES OF OUR BMCC COMMUNITY. I’M YOUR HOST, RAQUEL NERIS, AND TODAY, WE HAVE A GUEST WHOSE JOURNEY IS VERY INSPIRATIONAL. HIS NAME IS ALAN CATA, A BMCC GRADUATE, A MEMBER OF THE OUT IN TWO PROGRAM, AND A SHINING EXAMPLE OF RESILIENCE AND TRANSFORMATION.
LET’S LISTEN TO HIS STORY.
Raquel: Thank you so much for being here and collaborating in our OpenLab for Students community and also podcast. Uh, the idea today is for you to share about your story as a BMCC student and also as a member of the Out in Two program. So let’s get started. Please share your story as a BMCC student, why did you come to BMCC?
Alan: Um, long story short, my journey coming to BMCC started about maybe a year or two before I came to BMCC. I was actually in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and I was like at the very end of a 20 year prison sentence. And I actually, um, started to correspond with an organization stationed in John Jay College, uh, known as college initiative.
After my release from Sing Sing Correctional Facility on August 10th, 2000 and basically a month later, um, college initiative pretty much filled out all my paperwork that got me accepted in CUNY, had to start with remedial classes, which I think they recently removed from BMCC. It was the CUNY Start program. It was the Summer semester I started in BMCC, which was the semester right before they opened up, uh, the BMCC for in-person classes. So I started off the first semester as a freshman of the Summer of 2021. When the semester opened. I mean, when the campus opened for in-person classes by the Fall semester 2021 I was one of the first picks for the bash ambassadors to work with public health and safety. Um, yeah, so that was the first in-person semester where I did five classes. I had one of the highest GPAs, of 4.0.
I actually was requested by UMLA to join. Um, and I actually was the one that revamped and revitalized, uh, the clubs for UMLA. I became the first, um, person to retake, uh, the president’s spotter, their club, known as the National Society of Black Student Scholars. And I also helped restart the UMLA Club, which is the other club for UMLA.
That semester. I also was given my first invitation, Phi Theta Kappa Society, which I didn’t actually join right away. It was the next semester I joined Phi, the De Kaa Society. Um, I think it was the same year that I joined Phi Theta Kappa Society. I was in also inducted into the Out in Two program, um, through, uh, her name is, uh, Maria Ramirez.
Alan: Who became, yes, who became my new academic advisor, who also is the one that wanted me to participate the podcast. She was looking for somebody to do it. And um, yeah, I just pretty much did accomplishment after accomplishment. I mean, I definitely had a rough last two semesters, mental breakdown and all that. Probably at one point version of suicide. Uh, but I’m a very resilient person, and pretty much. I made Out in Two look good, I made Phi Theta Kappa Society look good. I ended up becoming an impact mentor as well as a delegate for the National Society of Leadership and Success. And I’m, now I looked at my degree works this morning and I’m an official graduate.
Raquel: Wow. Congratulations. Congratulations. You have an amazing journey and wow. I’m, I wasn’t expecting to, to listen to this amazing story. I’m very impressed and now I understand why Maria said you need to have Alan in your podcast. Uh, I wanted you to, if possible, talk a little bit more about the Out In Two program. Uh, like what is the goal of this program?
Alan: Well, first of all, not everybody could get in the Out in Two program. There’s different organizations and, and, and, and BMCC that not everybody could get in. Um, that would like Kappa Society. Not everybody could get in there. National Society of Leadership and Success, not everybody could get in here. There, Achievers, you gotta have a 4.0, so definitely everybody can’t get in there. It’s a requirement for our Out in Two students to get their associates within two years max. Out in Two, you’re required to make sure you fulfill the criteria of getting your associates in two years. So it’s definitely a motivational program. If you are a person that doesn’t wanna stagnate or digress, Out in Two is gonna push you. And with that they’ll like to open the doors. They have a, they pretty much, um, give you, uh, $1,600 grant every semester. Not every year. Every semester they fund people with $1,600 grants. And, um, pretty much they open doors. I think everybody in Out in Two pretty much passes and graduates.
Raquel: How many, how many members do you have right now at this, in this program?
Alan: You know, um, I can’t give you a number, but I have to get that from Maria. But we’re, we’re a small group, cause like I said, we have a high GPA standard. I mean, this is not saying that a person has to be a genius to get in it. I mean, I’m a person that did 20 years in prison, but saying is if you are a person that wants to strive for greatness, You’re gonna end up in Out in Two. It just, it just goes hand in hand. I mean, certain things, everyone’s like, part of almost every album, two members also Phi Theta Kappa Society, like the president for Phi Theta Kappa Society was also one of Maria, uh, Ramirez’s, people that she was a advisor for.
The thing is, is is like as an undergrad, um, a lot of times you’re not pushed the way other colleges gonna push you. Like when you get to like your Hunters, your Baruchs, your NYUs, your Columbias, whatever, you’re gonna get pushed to another level. Like then you’re not gonna have time to slack and digress.
Raquel: Yes, of course. And as you’re a part of a group, a selected group, and everyone is focused, everyone has to achieve this, uh, this high level quality of production of having success and maintaining a pattern of a high standard.
Alan: And these things is like no one should be insecure thinking they can’t do it.
ALAN’S TRANSFORMATION FROM INCARCERATION TO BECOMING A BMCC GRADUATE AND MEMBER OF THE OUT IN TWO PROGRAM IS TRULY INSPIRING. ALAN’S MESSAGE ABOUT STRIVING FOR GREATNESS, OVERCOMING FEARS, AND THE POWER OF AUTHENTICITY IS A VALUABLE LESSON FOR US ALL. IT’S A REMINDER THAT EDUCATION AND RESILIENCE CAN LEAD TO REMARKABLE PERSONAL GROWTH.
NEXT, ALAN SHARES HOW NETWORKING WAS FUNDAMENTAL FOR HIM TO PURSUE HIS DREAMS.
I basically had a rough two semesters on a mental level. Um. Unfortunately, the mental breakdown, I stopped attending many meetings on all levels, but when I was going to meetings, it’s a roughly like. Of every family type of group, you know, a small group, family group, everyone smiles and encouragement and praise. Everybody’s pretty much uplifting each other. No one’s better than no one. Everybody’s on equal grounds. That goes for the students as well as the academic advisors. Um, everybody’s pushing each other for greatness. Everyone’s given praise and accommodations to everyone else. And, um, like I said, pretty much that.
That group is also associated with many other groups, Achievers, um, Phi Theta Kappa Society, National Society, Leadership Success, uh, Impact Peer Mentoring. So yeah, it’s definitely like one thing I learned about college and especially going to, uh, groups like Al Suez. The main thing I get from the guy from college is the ability to network.
But what I’m saying is, um, That, um, like is, I learned one thing I did get out that I didn’t know how to do before I went to college in BMCC or before I met people like Maria Ramirez. I didn’t know like the, the purpose of networking or how to network. And that’s something I definitely learned how to do because one door opens another door
Yeah, absolutely. What are your, uh, plans for the future now that you’re graduate?
Well, I’m actually already a Pre-Law student in Hunter already. My major will be Political Science. My minor will be, uh, I think it was Legal Studies. Also, I’m gonna be a student for German courses that I was already offered the German course cuz they’d seen I was looking for law. And basically German, the German language and law for whatever reason go together.
I wouldn’t know why, because actually most law legal language is Latin, but they say it’s good to learn German when you go to law school. So yeah, I’m, I’m actually practicing going for be a pre-law student. So there was an individual that was incarcerated on Rikers Island. He was a felon and he somehow overstepped the bounds and had got a law degree and actually passed the bar even though he was a felon.
And that actually went to many courts, and this was years back. The rapper 50 cents had made a show about it about less than10 years ago. But the case was older than that. But anyway, as of, I think it was like five years ago. 47 states in America, felons could actually practice law. Of course, it’s harder for us to pass the bar because we literally gotta get more references than the average person would. And my thing is I love to defy the norms. So I already defied the norms.
I literally was institutionalized more than half my life. I come from a street culture, gang affiliated gang leader. Um, and I pretty much overstepped the bounds of expectations of society. I went from a gang leader to a convict to a person before I was even a convict, was doing time in juvenile detention.
So a person that became under BMCC, top students, uh, no street size, no gang affiliation.
My way of defining the norms is I actually wanted to become the first felon to become a district attorney. So I plan do be a prosecutor. I don’t plan to challenge, um, any officers. I’m actually a Republican actually, so I actually support police, I support prisons, all that. Just bec I’m not the person I was yesterday, so I don’t think like the person I am yesterday, I’d tell kids that if you know something, corroborate with the police, it’s the right thing to do.
I could honestly say if i didn’t go to prison, I probably would’ve been worse than I was before I went to prison. That’s me as a person. That was them yesterday. So yeah, I speak as a person. I don’t really sympathize with anyone that breaks the law.
So I’m very much a promoter of the law and I could easily prosecute a person to sleep at night. I wouldn’t be able to defend a person that I knows that’s going to do worse tomorrow.
DESPITE FACING TOUGH TIMES AND MENTAL CHALLENGES, ALAN FOUND SUPPORT IN THE BMCC COMMUNITY. HIS JOURNEY FROM A TROUBLED PAST TO BECOMING A PRE-LAW STUDENT WITH THE GOAL OF BECOMING A DISTRICT ATTORNEY IS AMAZING. HIS WORDS SERVE AS A REMINDER THAT PERSONAL GROWTH AND CHANGE ARE POSSIBLE FOR ANYONE WILLING TO PURSUE THEIR DREAMS AND CHALLENGE THEIR PAST.
AT LAST, ALAN SHARES RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BMCC STUDENTS.
Alan: Most people in existence are scared to be themselves for whatever reason, because most of the time, we always thinking about what other people are thinking. Oh, How were they? How were they? We we’re, we’re trying to be a part of something. Everyone wants to be a part of something. Everybody wants to be accepted by someone or a group.
Um, it starts before the childhood. We do things to please our parents and be accepted by, and loved by our parents. Then we go to school, we wanna be accepted by our peers and our teachers. It is just a, it is just something that, that, that starts and, and, and what I call that as wearing a mask. Most of us wear masks. And once you are one with yourself and one with the universe, the universe is yours for the taken.
Um, one thing I learned when I was in prison, it runs, of course, my mind more than ever, is the five watches and it went, watch your thoughts, your thoughts become your words. Watch your words, your words become your actions. Watch your actions. Your actions. Become your habits. Watch your habits. Your habits. Become your character and watch. Your character becomes, your character, becomes your destiny. Your. Wins and failures is all starts with your thoughts. If you think you’re gonna win, you’re gonna win. If you think you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna fail.
It only takes a little doubt and you’re failing. Um, I became a great fighter, not cause I was the biggest guy. I became a great fighter. Not because I was not scared. I’m actually scared a lot of times of a lot of people and a lot of things. The thing is, is I always challenge my fears. I, the, my biggest fear is to be scared of anything.
So therefore, rather than stay scared and run away from something, I run into it. I mean, that’s how you get over phobias. If you’re scared of heights, what you gotta do, you gotta go to a high place and get over your fear heights.
Raquel: Get over it. Yes. As long as you move away from your fears, you’re always gonna be scared of something.
Alan: Yeah. Um, so, um, and really, if I could go back, I probably wouldn’t have committed a crime at all, but, um, I don’t dwell on the past. What’s done is done. All I could do is move forward. But the point I’m making is that a lot of kids could avoid the consequences I faced or the consequences some other people faced.
So a lot of people are dead though. I mean, so a lot of people didn’t believe I was gonna live to 21. Here I am about to turn 44. Um, the point is, is that. I don’t, I’m not sitting here speaking as I’m better than anyone. Actually, what I’m saying is a lot of kids could be better than me, cuz the thing is, is that I had to become 40 years old or older to become a man.
A lot of the people that’s probably listening to this are in their teens or twenties. So rather than take this as me schooling you or belittling you just take this as the key to become better than me because you’re still a kid in many ways. You’re not even an adult, fully, mentally until you’re 25. Take that and basically run with it and become the next president of the United States.
Whatever you want to be, the world is yours for the take. Just be yourself and the world’s gonna come to you. Don’t go to the world.
Raquel: Alan, thank you so much for your contribution to this podcast. Your story is very inspiring and I hope to see you soon and I hope that, actually, I’m certain that this episode is going to inspire many BMCC students, so thank you so much.
Alan: You’re welcome.
THANK YOU ALL FOR JOINING US ON THIS PODCAST EPISODE FEATURING ALAN CATA AND ME, RAQUEL NERIS. IN OUR CONVERSATION, ALAN’S SHARED AN UPLIFTING JOURNEY FROM INCARCERATION TO EMBARKING ON A PRE-LAW EDUCATION. HE ALSO GAVE AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE ABOUT AUTHENTICITY, CONFRONTING FEARS, AND ASPIRING TO GREATNESS.
HIS STORY PROVIDES INSIGHT AND MOTIVATION FOR ANYONE WHO FINDS THEMSELVES ON THEIR JOURNEY OF TRANSFORMATION.
THIS EPISODE IS PART OF OUR SECOND SEASON CALLED MAKING MORE OF YOUR COLLEGE EXPERIENCE, IN WHICH WE FOCUS ON HOW JOINING BMCC INITIATIVES, SUCH AS CLUBS AND PROGRAMS, CAN HELP STUDENTS ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS.
PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH US AND, IF POSSIBLE. YOUR EXPERIENCES IN OUR PODCAST. YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT.
I WILL SEE YOU IN THE NEXT EPISODE OF THE OPENLAB STUDENT VOICES PODCAST.