A beautiful struggle: Kelin Callaway


Jimmieka Mills

Kelin Callaway, and HCC student with wife and son whom he considers his motivation to continue to pursue his dreams.

Jimmieka Mills, News Editor

Eighteenth birthdays are the best. They usually signify the transition to independence, adulthood, at the very least extended curfews. At 18, we usually come to new realizations about who we are and the people we want to become.

Kelin Callaway had a unique experience for his eighteenth birthday.

“My cellmate got a bunch of honey buns and smashed them together. That was my eighteenth birthday cake.”

Callaway had been arrested at 17 and was sentenced to 2 years. In 2004, Callaway was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime. “My case went by so fast, it took like two days. I was transferred from the state to the federal penitentiary within three months.”

“When I got there I was the youngest guy in the federal penitentiary,” recalls Callaway, a current student at Houston Community College Central campus.

Our transition in adulthood is a time in most people’s lives when we find ourselves, but Callaway says it was “when my identity was stripped from me. I was assigned an inmate number, which would identify me as an inmate for the next 2 years and 7 months.”

Callway admits he wanted to keep the world beyond his cell out of his daily thoughts. His way of doing this was to attempt to cut off communication with that part of his life entirely.

“I didn’t make calls even though I could. I rarely read letters that people sent to me. My mother only visited me twice. The first time she came I asked her not to come again. When she came the second time, I just sat there and didn’t talk to her. It was hard for me to even look at her.”

Instead, he decided to focus on bettering himself and preparing for his release. Callway recalls that he has always been musically inclined.

“All my life I’ve always played music. I play all brass instruments and have played drums professionally since I was six or seven. I wrote a bunch of gospel songs while I was in jail.”

He also enrolled in an educational program provided by the Windham School District. The Texas Board of Corrections established the program in 1969, as an entity that is separate from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“That’s how I got my Associates degree in Accounting,” explains Callway. “I wanted to learn something, to do something that I felt would be tangible when I was released.”

He found that the dreams he had of his release would be extremely different than the one he was confronted with.

“It was nerve wrecking. My girlfriend at the time was calling all around trying to get me a job that’s when I found out that my Associate’s degree would not be accepted.” Many employers turned him away citing that they didn’t approve of the learning materials used to obtain his degree.

He was required to take refresher courses at HCC to make sure his skills met standards. “I should have done it, but I didn’t. Just getting out of jail, though I wasn’t down for that and I thought it was a bunch of B.S., I should have done it though.”

His opportunity to further his education would come around again. This time he wouldn’t let the opportunity pass. While celebrating his release with friends, Callaway recalls a conversation that would align his education with his lifelong passion.

“One of my friends said ‘You’re out, what are you gonna do now?’ Well, one of the gospel songs I’d written while incarcerated sold when I got out. That’s when I decided that music was it for me. It was my number one priority and I was going to treat it as such.”

Callaway’s friend, a student a the for-profit Full Sail University at the time, encouraged him to look into the school.

“He say’s ‘You know, I go to a school called Full Sail, I think you need to look at it’. So as soon as he said that, I went home did my research, two weeks later went on the college tour, the next week I paid my tuition.”

Kelin went on to earn his Bachelors in Business Entertainment and is now the host of his own internet radio show on The Core 94. He is now taking some refresher courses at HCC. He married  his wife whom he calls “a blessing from God” in 2009. The couple welcomed their first child together on March 24, 2014.

These are his motivations to not return to a life that would lead him back to the penitentiary.

“I always think of the eighteenth birthday and my cellmate that was serving 33 years making me a birthday cake. He was comfortable there. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing my family over a foolish mistake.”

When asked what he took away from his time in prison Callaway says, “Being incarcerated taught me that living in the real world is a responsibility. You don’t take it lightly.”

Kelin is currently working towards his Masters Degree in Marketing and wants to one day own his own radio station to provide opportunities for those who share his passion.

When asked what advice he could give to anyone going through a struggle Kelin says, “God gives you gifts. You work those gifts, and they become your talents. Your talents become your income.”
You can listen to Kelin’s show Friday’s 4:30-6:30pm on The Core 94 by downloading TuneIn Radio through iTunes and Google Play.