Education in Action: Building a Bridge of Re-Entry

What does Education in Action look like in practice? Since its inception, the U.S. prison system has functioned to separate people from their families, communities, and the people they harmed. The system has also functioned to prevent people who have caused harm from engaging in any meaningful reparative action. It has functioned to restrict people's ability to care for their families, and to remove mentors, service members, and caretakers from their communities.  Education in Action (EiA) is an initiative by the  Alliance for Higher Education in Prison (the Alliance) that aims to mitigate some of these harms through professional work opportunities that capitalize on skills gained through higher education in prison. My recent co-facilitation of an interactive workshop with the  DC Peace Team is one such example. 

When I received my 50-year prison sentence, I gave up on hope of attaining any type of post-secondary education. Thankfully, I met a man who became a dear friend and mentor. He helped me realize that – despite my incarceration – I still had good to offer the world. I had also found myself in a facility where there was a prison education partnership between Maine State Prison and University of Maine at Augusta, funded entirely by Doris Buffett's  Sunshine Lady Foundation . After a rough first few years of bouncing in and out of segregation, I settled in enough to begin my higher education journey. Yet, even as I was developing professional skills and deeper critical thinking abilities during the six years of my undergraduate journey, I still had no conception of the possibility that I might be able to operate as a professional before the decades of my sentence had run their course.

When I later started my master's program at the  Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution , it felt out of the realm of possibility that I might be able to develop a professional identity like my fellow master’s colleagues. Never could I have dreamt that, a short three and a half years later, I would be leading an interactive skills development workshop with a restorative justice and peacebuilding organization for professionals. Yet that's exactly what happened on February 17th of this year.

As part of my graduate work, I participated in a restorative justice training offered by the DC Peace Team last summer. Like many of the virtual spaces I've had the pleasure of joining since starting my master’s education three years ago, I was not stigmatized, ostracized, or ridiculed for my incarceration. Instead, I was among people who understood that, because I caused serious harm in my community, I am uniquely positioned to understand pathways to interrupt cycles of harm and incarceration. I understand what conditions can lead people to engage in serious interpersonal harm. Moreover, because of the harm I have caused, I'm deeply passionate about co-creating spaces of healing, connection, and repair. Through this work, I am constantly learning how to better foster these kinds of environments and relationships.

Sometimes those of us who have caused the greatest harms in our community are also those most committed to preventing further harm from occurring. One avenue of being able to put this passion to work is the workshop I co-facilitated with Drs. Sal Sorbin and Lukas Carey, and Vance Contee, which was called “ Restorative Approaches to Re-Entry: Working with Returning Citizens .” Together, each of us with lived expertise of the criminal legal system, held space for outside community members who are actively working to support people in their reentry and reintegration after incarceration.

Everyone present—all 35 or so of us, inside and outside of prison walls—came together to envision and commit to how we can collectively interrupt cycles of harm and incarceration by welcoming people home in meaningfully supportive ways after incarceration. Engaging in meaningful work like this is Education in Action. This is me, almost 16 years after my initial incarceration at 18 years of age, having an opportunity to pay forward what I cannot pay back. This is what is possible when leaders in Departments of Corrections co-create avenues of professional development and workforce engagement from within the walls of secure facilities.

It is possible to imagine a more connected and healed world. It is possible to create avenues that help us get there. Education in Action is a substantive step towards building a bridge between higher education in prison and meaningful employment outside of prison. This bridge is one that is built across walls and unnecessary divides. This bridge is one between communities. It is one of healing.

If you would like to learn more about the Education in Action initiative, please visit the landing page  here . If you know of or represent an organization that might be interested in being an employer partner; if you know of or are a currently incarcerated student interested in engaging in meaningful employment; or, if you know of or represent a Department of Corrections who is interested in being part of creating a bridge of connection, please send them our way. 

We will only create a future worth living if we do it together. Thinking, dreaming, imagining, and creating – together.