Education in Prison and its impact on Returning Citizens

Many years ago people in prison were eligible to receive a college education. Then, one day someone saw fit to outlaw such luxuries. Education was considered a privilege not to be enjoyed by individuals incarcerated for committing crimes.  As a result, educational funding was cut and state programs that offered higher education to people in prison were eliminated.

Many people in prison are high school dropouts with limited education; hence, the poverty rate of incarcerated people and the subsequent criminal lifestyles have become the norm. Nevertheless, once incarcerated and presented with the option to learn, many people jump at the opportunity to obtain their GED.

One of my friends told me that he prided himself on being a good hustler prior to becoming incarcerated. He met an old timer when he was incarcerated who challenged his notion and told him that he wasn’t a hustler until he could hustle himself out of prison. He told him that if he was really a good hustler he would take advantage of every opportunity provided to him and make sure that when he got out he never came back. My friend took that advice and today he is one of the most well respected leaders in his community. He obtained his GED, a barbering license and also learned various vital life skills that catapulted him to success.

Thankfully nobody has deemed criminals unfit to obtain a GED. I obtained my GED during my first year of incarceration. I enrolled in every therapeutic, academic program available to me. I knew I needed help and I set out to rehabilitate myself to the fullest extent. I remember yearning and longing for the opportunity to obtain my college degree. I applied for scholarships and was awarded funds for college correspondence courses. I also enrolled in onsite accredited college certificate programs. It seems that as long as a prisoner does not receive a degree at the expense of the state or federal government, they can take onsite college courses that offer transferrable courses.

I was always grateful for whatever bone the system threw me. I had a thirst for knowledge that I was determined to quench. Today I meet many men and women who have lots of college credits, but no degree. They are smart and driven and they have potential.  I try to encourage them to go back to school, but many of them are distracted by the daunting task of reentry. Their main goal is to earn an income and meet the expenses of daily living. I’m a firm believer that the more you learn, the more you earn, and I truly believe that knowledge is power. Therefore, I pray that people returning from incarceration will begin to understand the value of education and pursue it with a vengeance. I pray that the powers that be will support people in prison as they set out to educate themselves. It’s obvious that an education will lead to better opportunities and a greater chance for a successful reentry for men and women who crave a chance to succeed. That’s a no-brainer.

Further reading:

Why prison education?

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About Lashonia Etheridge-Bey

Lashonia Etheridge-Bey is a Public Speaker who can candidly and articulately speak to the consequences of youth violence, the effects of incarceration and the challenges of reentry into society. Read Lashonia's Full BIO Here 


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