Story and video by Danielle Smith
Every choice you make has a consequence. Some consequences are good, and some are horrendous. Some are small, and some are significant. SaulPaul found himself sitting in a cell of the Texas State Penitentiary when he realized that some choices have the power to change the course of your life.
“I didn’t go to prison because of my circumstances — it wasn’t because I was black. It wasn’t because my mom died or I grew up in the ghetto. It wasn’t the system. It wasn’t the man. It was just my choices,” SaulPaul says.
After prison, SaulPaul made the choice to learn to play the guitar and hone his skills as a rapper. SaulPaul is a motivational musician based in Austin who gives presentations to students at schools all around the city. He also produces music, mentors artists and leads a community outreach organization.
Before he went to prison, things were tough. His dad left when he was an infant. His mom died when he was three years old, so his grandmother, Pearlie, whom he called “Mama,” was his main caretaker. “She did the best she could,” SaulPaul says, “but she was old, and I was young. She was slow, and I was fast. She was soft-hearted, and I was hard-headed.”
SaulPaul’s grandmother always took pride in his accomplishments. One day, she displayed his report card adorned with straight A’s on the refrigerator.
His friends came over and made fun of the report card, and SaulPaul quickly learned that his natural ability to perform well in school was not what would gain him acceptance. Instead, he got involved with a crowd that was focused on selling illegal drugs. He realized that selling drugs was just about making money, so he figured out how to just make money — through counterfeit money.
After getting arrested in front of his entire high school by the FBI and making it out on bail, SaulPaul returned to school receiving approval and affection from his peers.
Although he was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin on an academic scholarship, he began his time on the forty acres enjoying the party scene and continuing to make counterfeit money.
Before long, SaulPaul was convicted of three felonies, adding to the one he already had, and he was sent to the Texas State Penitentiary on a ten-year sentence. Those ten years turned into two through what SaulPaul describes as a “miracle.” “I feel like prison was a time out for me,” he says.
After he was released, he worked odd hours for hourly wages to get back on his feet. He also sent in an application to return to UT. That application was accepted, and SaulPaul graduated with a 4.0 and a degree in radio-television-film. “I knew I had this inherent responsibility to give back and felt that I would be fraudulent if I overcame all the adversity I went through and then just got a job and lived a successful life and kept it all to myself,” he says.
SaulPaul founded the ReRoute outreach organization in 2002 with the intention of entertaining and educating youth, and telling them they can accomplish more if they believe in themselves and make the right choices.
After the first time he gave a presentation at a high school, he got an email from a student who said the presentation had changed the young man’s life. “A light bulb just went off, and I was like oh, this is what I was born to do,” SaulPaul says. By combining his music with his message, he found his life’s calling. These days, he spends his time speaking to and mentoring youth, inspiring them to reach their full potential despite their circumstances.
Sierra Shanté, for example, is an up-and-coming hip-hop artist, produced by SaulPaul through the ReRoute music group. “He has given me a lot of feedback about my music and how I can make it better, and he’s also given me a lot of opportunities. And I’m just really thankful,” Shanté says.
Recently, SaulPaul gave a speech at a Settlement Home in Austin, an all-female foster care program. “He gave me hope when no one else could,” Charlene, an 18-year-old resident of the home says.
“[SaulPaul] is talking about what he is actually doing and he’s braving his own trail while finding a way to be successful at what he does,” Settlement Home program director Cat Huey says. “He’s teaching that lesson, but he’s also living it out, and the girls see that and respond to it.”
Once confined to the walls of a prison because of his choices, SaulPaul has chosen music to share his message of redemption and inspiration with the world.