‘I’d probably be dead’: Man goes from inmate to college student

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Rotavis Ashcraft went from being a young man in state prison at 16 years old to a college student, where he made all As and Bs.

Ashcraft saw several people like him inside Foothills Correctional Institution in Morganton without direction and few workers had empathy.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Ashcraft told Channel 9. “I’ve seen a lot. I ultimately told myself, I have to be the one to change this. I can change it you know.”

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Ashcraft had a desire to learn and help others as he earned a GED behind bars.

“I tell people, prison is one of the greatest things that happened to me, because it showed me who I really was.”

He said prison time gave him discipline.

“I feel like if I had never been to prison, I’d probably be dead,” Ashcraft said. “That was the alternative for me. The lifestyle I was living, people tell me, ‘There’s only two ways out: The prison or the grave.’”

Ashcraft applied to Clinton College in Rock Hill after his release and openly disclosed his conviction.

As a teenager, Ashcraft admits he lived dangerously.

“Skipping school,” he said. “I was out there fighting, had my hands on drugs, had my hands on guns.”

He was shooting a rifle at utility poles and didn’t know people were working nearby.

“One was behind the fixtures, and I was shooting off rounds, ignorant at the time,” Ashcraft said. “I thought if the bullets hit the fixtures, they would just drop. But they were ricocheting. and they were hitting these people. One of the guys came out and yelled at me and I took off running. And I was in my house not knowing I just shot three people.”

He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and several other charges.

Jocelyn Biggs was on a special committee that investigated Ashcraft’s criminal past and was impressed by the mentors who had supported him.

“One of the administrators from the prison where he was, she said, ‘I know you’ve had a hard time getting documents that he needs,’” said Biggs, vice president of enrollment management. “She said, ‘If I had to drive to Raleigh and get those and bring them to Rock Hill, I would.’ She said, ‘This young man is super awesome and this is his time to shine.’”

Toneyce Randolph, vice president of Academic Services at Clinton College, said Ashcraft is a model student.

“He’s doing excellent,” Randolph said. “He’s currently making As and Bs.”

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Ashcraft hopes to become an attorney to help other young people like him navigate their way through the legal system.

Ashcraft has a message for young people who have a chance to avoid the hard road he traveled.

“Keep God first, most importantly, and try your best stay away from the ones who want to see you fall,” Ashcraft said. “Stay away from the ones that always want you to do bad. Most importantly, if mom is giving you good advice, mom, dad, grandma listen to them, because if I had listened to my

mom and my grandma, I probably wouldn’t have went to prison.”

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Ashcraft said the icing on the cake is that his tuition is free this year.

To help families already struggling due to the pandemic, Clinton College used COVID-19 relief funding to provide free tuition to students during the 2021-2022 school year.

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