Rob Woods (left) and Adam Dupuis (right) entered prison at the same time and experienced a similar journey inside the fences.
“My whole life I was always told this is where I’d end up,” said Adam Dupuis.
“It’s a surreal experience, when those gates close for the first time,” said Rob Woods.
Woods and Dupuis both grew up in single mother households in Saginaw, Michigan.
“We had similar stories in the sense that our guidance was the streets, the neighborhood that unfortunately wasn’t positive,” said Woods. “Nobody was doing anything sufficient with their lives that we hung with, so we just did the same thing.”
A life-altering decision
That environment literally led to the two making a life-altering decision.
“Adam and I had a beef with other kids in the neighborhood,” said Woods. Things then escalated back and forth. “As a result, a young man got shot.”
“That split-second decision altered the future of our lives,” said Dupuis.
In 2002, the two were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Their sentence? Mandatory life, with the possibility of parole.
The two would start their prison journey together. “I felt some sense of comfort to be at the same facility as Rob,” said Dupuis. But that quickly changed when three months in Dupuis was transferred to a maximum-security prison. It would be two decades before the two would reunite.
Their paths early on were all too expected of prisoners.
“When you sentence an 18-year-old kid who is already troubled, to life, what is the reason for him to try and do better?” said Woods. “So, what I did was try to learn the prison politics and try to figure out a way that I could survive, for lack of a better term comfortably, and that was by sticking my chest out, because a lot of times if other inmates know you’ll stick up for yourself they won’t mess with you.”
It was every man for himself—the same mentality that got both Dupuis and Woods into prison in the first place.
“I felt like I was on my own, where I had to survive,” said Dupuis. “I never had support from the outside world, and things can get pretty rough in here.”
“My first five or six years I didn’t do so well. I spent time in segregation, got tickets, I didn’t do well, I didn’t have a reason to,” said Woods.
But Woods’ mentality shifted when he began to look outside of himself and started to realize his decisions that were putting him in segregation were disappointing his family who weren’t able to see or call him during that time.
“I lost my life because as far as I knew I wasn’t coming home. But what can I do to change the perspective of my family?” thought Woods.
Dupuis also knew after more than a decade of destructive behavior inside prison, it was time for a change. “I knew my behavior was hurting my family and wasn’t doing much for improving my stigma as an inmate.”
So, unbeknownst to each other, they both got to work and started taking advantage of programs inside prison.
At Handlon Correctional Facility, where Woods had been since 2004, he was working in the trades when another opportunity emerged: The Calvin Prison Initiative (CPI). “I thought what better way to make my family proud than to get a bachelor’s degree.
So, he applied and was accepted.
Woods discovered quickly that he would soon gain far more than a degree.
“First year, I had Professor Heys, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and I flinched, ‘I’m like, hey, what are you doing, we are going to get in trouble,’” recalls Woods, who said he reacted that way because he wasn’t used to being treated like a human being. “If you get treated like you are nothing long enough, I guarantee you will start to believe it. Our interactions with the staff and CPI professors broke us from that mind frame and that was important in the transformation process.”
And so, his individual transformation began, and throughout the next few years he started to see that transformation taking hold within his community.
“I went into the card room and there were lots of CPI students studying, but then they also had the young trades guys with them, and they were tutoring them. So, it went from walking into a card room and seeing people playing dominoes, poker, and gambling, to a somewhat quiet space with people studying and focusing on what they were going to do post-incarceration,” said Woods. “Calvin is big on lifting the next guy up and giving you a sense of purpose.”
In May 2022, Woods graduated from Calvin University. “I forgot that I was in prison that day. It took me away from prison for the first time in 21 years.”
A couple of months later, Woods experienced something else he hadn’t over those past two decades, a reunification with Dupuis.
“We cried like babies when we ran into each other,” said Dupuis. “I missed my brother.”
Dupuis had been taking advantage of every self-help opportunity he could find. And then he heard about CPI. “I saw they accepted lifers, and I was shocked,” said Dupuis. “I’ve signed up for so many things and always been rejected because of the time I have left to serve. I thought that was hindering my chance of becoming a better person.”
With CPI, lifers are given priority, as the goal of the program is to change the prison culture from the inside-out. So, Dupuis applied and was accepted. Though he was accepted, he had just moved to one of the more peaceful facilities in all of the state in Coldwater, so he was reluctant to go.
“I was talked into changing my mind though,” said Dupuis. “Probably the best decision I’ve made in my life.”
Hello and goodybe
Dupuis rode into Handlon Correctional Facility and there reunited with Rob Woods. It was that day that Woods both greeted his old friend and shared with him the news that he would only be there a few more months.
“For me, it was nerve-racking at first,” said Woods. “Not only are we reuniting but I have to tell this man that I got my parole and that I am going home, and he and I did the same thing, had the same charges, and he has nine more years on the numbers side. For me that was the hardest thing to do.”
But the reaction showed just how far Dupuis had come. “He was genuinely happy for me,” said Woods.
“Rob’s my brother for life, so of course I’m happy for him,” said Dupuis.
“Seeing him crying [when I shared the news], that’s a big deal for him, and to see that, I knew this was not the same guy,” said Woods.
And Dupuis’ life would only transform more as he began the CPI program, as he began to regain his humanity.
Shaking hands, restoring humanity
“It was a little overwhelming at first. I have never shaken the hand of anyone except another inmate,” said Dupuis. “To see the way professors accepted us and treated us as humans was really an emotional thing for me and there were times I thought I was going to cry because I’ve never been treated like that. It doesn’t feel like we are people who are incarcerated when we are in the classroom, it feels like we are real students.”
It's a far cry from what he’d experienced his entire life.
“You would be amazed at the feeling you experience when you are always told this is all you are ever going to be, to then have someone come in, look you in the eye and shake your hand,” said Dupuis. “The professors are so caring, you know, they really care about their students, and it really gives you the motivation that you want to do your best.”
Woods’ example is also motivating to Dupuis, who hopes to pave the way for those still inside the fences.
“I only hope I can be half of what he was when he was here. He paved the way for me. I hope I can set the standard or help pave the way for the next person,” said Dupuis. “I only hope going forward that I can help change the narrative and help prove people as incarcerated individuals are worthy of change and I think that begins with education.”
An inside and outside job
And it begins with more agents of renewal inside the fences.
“You are a product of your environment, and I can see now that that can be a positive thing, that doesn’t have to be negative,” said Dupuis.
While Dupuis works inside the fences, Woods is determined to set the standard outside. He’s gainfully employed as a CNC programmer for Koops Automation Systems back in his hometown. He’s hoping the path he’s blazing will soon become a common road.
“My story isn’t unique to what led me to prison,” said Woods. “Unfortunately, what’s unique about my story is my success after prison. I’m hoping that we can change that at some point.”