Luckily I found out about The Prison Scholar Fund which made it possible for me to continue my education and to prepare myself to get out and make a major life change. Their standards impress me because they directly reflect the competitive nature of American society which I feel really pushes people who are funded to go the extra mile to succeed. They provide a support system and the feeling that someone really has your back and is pulling for you to succeed. I hope anyone reading this will understand that rehabilitation can ultimately only occur with the support for educating America’s incarcerated population and a firm desire on the part of the incarcerated to rehabilitate themselves. The concept of the Prison Scholar Fund addresses this beautifully. The Prison Scholar Fund is giving me the tools, helping me financially, and doing it in a way that encourages me and pushes me to succeed.
The Prison Scholar Fund means that I have a future. It means I have options. It means I have a chance. But above all else, it means I have HOPE.
In a system where men, women, and children have been thrown into warehouses where the idea of rehabilitation has long ago been abandoned, the Prison Scholar Fund is evidence that not everyone has given up on me.
The Prison Scholar Fund believed in me… and now I believe in myself.
An education is an opportunity to become successful. In prison it’s a source of pride and redemption, and presents an individual with the chance to feel good about making progress in a place where growth is often limited and stagnated. Attaining a degree in prison would be tantamount to taking a piece of my life back. It would place me in a position to make up ground that I’ve lost throughout the years. It will ultimately be a feeling of accomplishment, and a source of security to come out of prison not beginning life where I left it twenty years prior.
An education is so powerful. Especially coming from my vantage point in life, because I am of the demographic in prison who will have served over twenty years once I am released. Sadly, most programs offered to me are only available once I have served my time, and for others like me serving decade long sentences, we do not have an idea of what our support systems will look like once we are released. So for myself and many others, the only guarantees we have are the education and skill sets we acquire in prison. I want to be as prepared for society as I can and this preparation occurs with career building opportunities that I am able to take advantage of now.
Once I am released I never want my lack of education or skills to be the cause of a return to prison. So every day I awake here I spend it building the foundation of my future life, and an education is the cornerstone of that foundation from which my future will be built.
Pursuing an education while incarcerated can sometimes seem both arduous and hopeless for a prisoner with minimal resources. Such an education is often earned through informal studies, institutional programs always in danger of budget cuts, and charity from family, friends, or organizations like the Prison Scholar Fund. Still, the accomplishments are immensely rewarding. My education in prison has literally been an awakening of the mind, certainly comparable to giving eyesight to the blind. In addition to the invaluable personal enrichment, I have developed research skills, honed a capacity for critical thinking, and regulatory exercised an ability to articulate a thought, an idea, or a civilized argument. Nurturing these qualities undoubtedly, facilitates life-building aspirations and confidence.
Getting this degree has been a fantastic experience. I would never have been able to get over here to do it if not for your Prison Scholar Fund. What has made it even more remarkable is that [Dirk was] commandeering much of it from behind prison walls [himself]. I’ve always been amazed with that reality. In my heart I’ve wanted to believe that I could assist PSF if I were released. But time after time I received set-offs from parole. Now [Dirk is] out and I hope to follow myself. I have been locked up 26 years. 26 friggin’ years. But my mind has found freedom. God bless you and the work set before you. That I am truly grateful to you for all you have done for me would be inadequate for describing my feelings.
PSF made it possible for me to pursue courses with degree bearing credits, something not available at the time within the confines of the prison, and for that I will forever be grateful to the organization as a whole, and Dirk personally… his personal commitment to foundation made my experience that much richer. The way that I choose to repay the favor is to make those credits REALLY count.
Education in prison has a way of centering a person, not just in terms of their doing time in a way that reduces violence or recidivism rates, although those things are important in their way. Everyone wants to have a place in society; we are social creatures, and are socialized to allocate our value and our worth in terms of our place. Those who live on the margins aren’t born knowing that they are on the margins. We aren’t taught as little kids that the opportunities of life in America drilled into us at school, in history and social studies, have nothing to do with us, with *people like us*. Only after coming to prison did I come to understand that the margins of a society exist for certain people and that I was one of those people. For those not affected personally by incarceration, they don’t think about how the social forces influence the lives of individuals whether they know it or not, and how people become empowered (or disempowered) within their social positions. Through education, I’ve begun to comprehend that my position in relation to others and to global influences isn’t static, and that I have the agency not only to change my position, but to also affect change in my current community initially, and the greater community upon my release. One of the most valuable things about educating incarcerated people is that they learn that they can be agents of positive change within their own lives and the lives of their families and their communities.
Today, I’m pursuing my Associates of Liberal Arts and Science degree; upon completion of this semester (in which I’m taking environmental science and English comp), I will be 25 credits away from my goal, and this is just the beginning of my academic career. I will never be a traditional college student, but I believe that unconventionality in academic pursuit is essential to the vitality of academia, a way of walking through the world that can and has become removed from its potential to foster real change. The academic establishment for a prisoner can be an ecotone bridging between the world as a place of dysfunction as well as a site of resistance.
Across the nation, many prisoners are deviating from an institutionally induced state of stagnation which limits our thinking to the poorest quality of thought and traps our experience in fantasy or in a period that lead[s] us to prison. In every prison in the United States, dare I say, there are groups of men and women who are working to effect positive change in themselves and their environment. Oftentimes, they have managed to do so with the barest of necessities.
That’s why the work of the Prison Scholar Fund is so important. The men and women who have come to appreciate learning, who have become empowered by education are the very people that abandon their criminal behavior and utilize learning for productive citizenship. Additionally, there are others who have enough insight to be useful in contributing ideas for resolutions to some of the most pressing issues in our prisons and society.
Just imagine the difference in prisoners when the proper resources are available to those who desire to use them to their best advantage! Dirk [the PSF’s Executive Director] is a refreshing example of what a clear vision and a reformative purpose can accomplish.
I can honestly say that the Prison Scholar Fund (PSF) forever changed my life. In helping me to enroll in my first college course, The PSF served as the catalyst that allowed me to experience the enriching, mind-expanding world of post-secondary education. And with yet only a small taste of that experience, I developed an entirely new outlook on life and began to realize how corrosive and harmful the criminal lifestyle I had been living actually was. I no longer wanted any part of it. Instead, I wanted to become a more productive person and to help other inmates encounter the life-changing effects of post-education. Thanks to The PSF I understood what the Irish poet William Butler Yeats meant when he said that “[e]ducation is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The old, irresponsible me had begun to burn away as I began to become a much happier, more constructive person.
In my heart these achievements, blessings, and life-altering changes I accredit to the kindness and generosity of The Prison Scholar Fund. Without their having believed in me and their having afforeded me the opportunity to take part in the college experience, my life would have likely continued down the solemn, shallow path of despair and destruction that is the criminal lifestyle. Do not mistake me; I am not claiming that today I am a model of inspiration–I still have unlimited room for growth. However, I am now a markedly better adjusted, well rounded human being thanks to the road The Prison Scholar Fund help open for me. Their compassionate actions epitomize the sentiments of the nineteenth century writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe when he said, “Treat a man as he appears to be and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”
I am glad this window of opportunity is opening up for me, and I can’t wait to take full advantage of it.