A Life Transformation, Inspired By An English Teacher’s Words

Half of Her Life Behind Bars

Lashonia Thompson-El grew up in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., during the 1980s.

At that time, the crack epidemic in the inner city was at its height.

“Life was drugs, crime, violence, and murder. And I got swallowed up in it,” Lashonia says.

After dropping out of high school her junior year, Lashonia committed a violent crime that led to the deaths of two young women.

As a result, Lashonia was sentenced to  20-60 years in prison. She served 18 years before being released on parole.

“That could have been it for me,” she says.

“I could’ve given up on making anything of my life. So many incarcerated women do.”

Instead, Lashonia spent her time behind bars bettering herself by reading, writing, and taking academic classes.

Today, she’s a college graduate working towards a Master’s Degree.

She recently published a memoir about her life experiences.

And she is the founder of a 501(c)(3) organization working to support women recently released from prison during their reentry to society.

Lashonia says much of her motivation to turn her life around came from one person: her middle school English teacher, Mr. Guttentag.


Lashonia says much of her motivation to turn her life around came from one person:
her middle school English teacher, Mr. Guttentag.


Tough for a Teacher

Lashonia says she remembers Mr. Guttentag’s English class well.

“He was this very young, white teacher in a sea of black kids.”

“You could tell he was hungry, passionate about teaching. But it didn’t matter…because most of us didn’t want to learn.”

Lashonia says she was one of the only students who made any effort in the class.

“It was a really tough year for me,” she says.

“I was going through a lot of bad stuff at home and in my community, and I wrote about it in my journal.”

Lashonia says Mr. Guttentag read every one of those entries.

“He couldn’t relate, but he gave me support in the way that he could,” Lashonia says: “By teaching me to journal.”

At the end of the year, Lashonia received an “A” in Mr. Gutentag’s class.

“He told me, ‘You’re going to be a great writer someday.’”


“He told me, ‘You’re going to be a great writer someday.’”


Motivation for a Memoir

While incarcerated, Lashonia says she came back to Mr. Guttentag’s message.

It helped her make the decision to write a memoir about her life.

The memoir, titled “Through the W.I.R.E. | My Search for Redemption” was just released.

“I have a lot to say, and I hope my story will be inspiring to other women who’ve grown up like I did,” Lashonia says.

“I want them to know that they can transform their lives if they want to.”

“It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.”

The W.I.R.E.

Along with publishing her memoir, Lashonia has been busy establishing a non-profit in her hometown.

Like the memoir, it’s called The W.I.R.E., which stands for Women Involved in Re-Entry Efforts.

Members of the organization are formerly incarcerated women who have successfully re-integrated into society and want to help others do the same.


Members of the organization are formerly incarcerated women who have successfully
re-integrated into society and want to help others do the same.


“In prison, women are each other’s support system, like a pseudo family,” Lashonia says.

“But lots of them don’t have that type of support on the outside. They can feel disconnected from everything and everyone.”

Lashonia and the other members of The W.I.R.E. serve as mentors for newly-released women.

“We help them re-unite with their families, find work, anything. We are just there to support them—by any means necessary.”

Onward and Upward

“While in prison, I had a lot of time to think, to reflect,” Lashonia says.

“I thought of Mr. Guttentag often.”

Recently, Lashonia looked him up.

She says she was surprised—but very happy—to learn that decades later, Mr. Guttentag is still working in education.

He is President of Connections Education, an international provider of virtual education for students in grades K–12.

“In that English classroom, he had it tough,” she says.

“It would have been easy for him to give up on teaching.”

While in prison, Lashonia says it would have been easy for her to give up on herself, too.

“Mr. Guttentag believed in me. He gave me the boost I needed to better myself so many years later.”

“He made a world of a difference in my life, and I’m so glad I got to tell him that.”


“Mr. Guttentag believed in me. He gave me the boost I needed to better myself so many years later.”

“He made a world of a difference in my life, and I’m so glad I got to tell him that.”


Learn more about Lashonia’s story, and purchase her newly-released book here.