From Inmates to Graduates: How a Groundbreaking Program is Changing Lives Behind Bars

Everyone should be given another opportunity. It’s not often that people get a chance to improve themselves, but that’s exactly what happened to some prisoners who graduated from Macdougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut. Alpha Jallow was one of them, along with six other inmates, who became the first graduates of the Yale Prison Education Initiative and the University of New Haven. This initiative, led by YPEI, began offering Yale courses at Macdougall-Walker Correctional Institution and Manson Youth Institution in 2018. The University of New Haven joined in 2021, providing incarcerated students with two- and four-year degrees. “It was a long journey to get here. I was incarcerated six years ago, and I never thought about going to college,” Jallow shared.

The graduation ceremony, filled with emotions, took place at a Connecticut prison. Maurice Blackwell, another graduate, mentioned that the program set him on a better path. He will be released from prison in 2027 with a degree and a fresh perspective on life. “This cap and gown symbolize something different. It represents accomplishment and liberation. I want to move forward and leave the prison behind,” said Blackwell. Loved ones were present to support the graduates, as reported by NBC Connecticut. Blackwell’s fiancé, Tiffany Williams, expressed her excitement, saying, “I’m thrilled to be here and witness this. It’s something I’ve never seen before, and it’s truly inspiring to see how far he has come. It has also motivated me to start college.”

Marcus Harvin, another graduate, plans to attend law school and hopes to become a defense attorney in the future. He recently completed his sentence at the high-security MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, where he served six years for a drunk driving accident that injured his two young children. “The name Yale holds great significance for me because I’m from New Haven. The opportunity to study at Yale while being in prison is unheard of,” Harvin explained. “Some people even think I’m lying, so I show them my jail ID and my Yale ID.” The program, initiated by alum Zelda Roland, offers classes at MacDougall-Walker, the federal women’s prison in Danbury, and 15 other schools and prison systems nationwide, according to AP News.

“We strongly believe that this program has the power to bring about transformation and make a lasting impact,” said Roland, who serves as the director of the Yale-UNH partnership. “We believe that we’re not only transforming the lives of individual students, but also the institutions we work with, including the universities and the correctional system.” Governor Ned Lamont delivered the commencement address, commending each graduate for their hard work. “We shape our own futures, and today marks the beginning of that journey,” stated Lamont.

“You learn from the past, but you have the power to shape your own future. Your future will be your legacy, and I want you to have an important story to share.” UNH officials report that slightly over 20% of inmates receive some form of higher education while in prison. Studies also indicate that those who do are significantly less likely to exhibit behavioral issues in prison and have a lower likelihood of committing crimes after their release.

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From Inmates to Graduates: How a Groundbreaking Program is Changing Lives Behind Bars
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