[Susan notes: The letters speak to an article everyone should read.]
Published in New York Times
a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/put-schools-back-in-prison.html"> Help Us Learn in Prison, by John J. Lennon, an Attica inmate (Sunday Review, April 5), urging that prisoners be offered college courses, hit me like a ton of bricks.
That was me in the early 1990s, in my cell, believing that I was destined to sell drugs on the corner, with prison an occupational hazard. But as part of a routine intake I was encouraged to enroll in high school equivalency classes. I did.
Instructors again urged me to take college classes. It turns out, I was among the last to get a college education in a New York State prison before inmates were denied access to federal and state financial aid programs. The classes were life changing and gave me options that I pursued upon my release. As I continued my education, career opportunities increased dramatically. I've never looked back.
The few dollars that New York State smartly invested in my college education saved the hundreds of thousands it would have cost to keep me incarcerated. In fact, I'm a taxpayer now and want my tax dollars invested in peopleĆ¢s potential, and that means reinstituting these programs.
Long Island City, Queens
The writer is the senior vice president at the Fortune Society, a social services organization for formerly incarcerated people.
To the Editor:
John J. Lennon makes a powerful case for providing much needed changes and services to our current abysmal prison system. Changing the public perception of how we view punishment will go a long way in helping to rebuild that broken system.
We already know about the overcrowded and dehumanizing treatment of prison inmates nationwide; Mr. Lennon focuses on one aspect that could have some seriously positive effects on recidivism and on making more ex-prisoners more productive members of our society.
My work as a chaplain with men and women both in prison and during re-entry informs my own desire to reform this dreadful system. They are human beings who have made mistakes, just like the rest of us. Taking away any possibility of learning, growing and perhaps changing is a blemish on us as a nation. But we all benefit when we lift up the marginalized.
To the Editor:
As faculty members for the Bard Prison Initiative with nearly a century of teaching experience among us -- in universities and colleges, medical schools and correctional facilities -- we write to support the prison education that John J. Lennon so ably champions. He rightly notes that such programs can be defended on utilitarian grounds, as sound prison management and effective recidivism prevention. But their reach is deeper.
Prison education repurposes a captive space for the recovery of an ideal. In all our years of teaching, we have rarely encountered such hunger for learning, such tenacity of preparation, such eagerness for rehearsing arguments, such delight in reclaiming as their own a part of the common canon or such respect for each other's efforts.
These are bare choirs, in lyceums stripped down to essentials: books and the space to discuss them. We teach without PowerPoints, Internet resources or electronic blackboards; even chalk can be a scarce commodity. But what takes place here reminds those privileged to be part of it what it can mean to be surprised by learning.
To the Editor:
For the past 14 years, I have been a volunteer writing tutor for the Marymount Manhattan College program at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the only maximum-security facility for women in the state. I have observed the women in the program evolve and develop into studious, intellectually curious people.
Yes, some of them have committed horrific crimes. Some have been in prison for 30 years or more. Some came from abusive families. Some were in gangs, took drugs and never had any decent role models. However, taking college courses has enabled them to develop self-esteem and to have hope for their future.
The admiration I hold for these women in unequaled, and I continue to learn from them every time we meet.
Mount Kisco, N.Y.