Being a teacher who is also married to a man who is physically incarcerated in a New York State correctional facility gives me a very in-depth and parallel view into the direct correlation between education and the trend of mass incarceration that has steadily grown in the United States over the last 30 years. I am a firm believer that no matter the societal issues being faced, education is the most effective way to remedy them. Incarceration is no exception. In order to prepare those incarcerated for a sustainable transition into mainstream society, it is imperative that a viable college education be afforded to current prison inmates. That, for me, is a non-negotiable.
According to The Prison Reentry Institute (PRI) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "About half of the prisons in New York have some form of college programming." PRI runs a college program in the Otisville correctional facility and a program called College Initiative which provides post-correctional academic counseling and mentoring services to aid students in enrolling and making a successful adjustment to college in the community.
Recently a survey seeking to ascertain the perspective of currently enrolled students who are incarcerated was distributed to my husband John and other men in Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The following is an actual response to the survey question "Since taking classes while incarcerated, what have been the benefits so far? What have been the challenges?" answered by Mr. Wilfredo Laracuente. His responses give us a very personal, inside look into the hopes and the trials of an incarcerated man doing his best to prepare for a future that is so close, yet so far.
Prison is a multitude of instances that require an ability to ad lib, think on the fly, and become instinctive in any and all situations. I have developed an array of defensive and coping mechanisms designed to keep me safe. After one becomes entrenched in the Mercy College experience many people from this populace who choose not to engage in higher education become indifferent, to say the least. Some people are open and express their displeasure for individuals who decide in prison that they want to attend college. Others choose to alienate you from prior social circles because of your lack of physical presence. The majority [have] no clear cut opinion; yet they toss innuendos around like a football during a game of two-hand touch.
Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. The outside forces are conquerable. It is the inner demons which can consume one's psyche, causing individuals to become the storm. That is what the college experience can be. In the same breath, higher education can become a transformative force. When one becomes invested in his future despite prison, that said individual is transfixed on himself post-incarceration. Distractions, idleness, and undesirables become things of the past. A newfound sense of purpose, self-worth, and energy becomes the driving force utilized to navigate through these treacherous waters.
I have acquired a newfound perspective since attending college in 2016. The need to focus on myself and where I will be upon completion of college is everything. I refuse to struggle unnecessarily post-incarceration. My B.A. Will afford me the best opportunity at being gainfully employed and financially stable. Remaining in that mindset is difficult. Prison is a place loaded with obstacles and landlines that can destroy good intentions instantly. A petty argument with someone in green (priosoner) or blue (correctional officer) can ruin someone's chance at an education.
Higher education compels individuals to become secular by nature. Frequenting recreation periods in prison yards is now obsolete. Prioritizing course study, workout regimens, and carving out time for family phone calls are now the tasks at hand. This sudden injection of higher learning spurs in-depth critical thinking, which allows a better perspective to become tangible. The development of introspection slows me to set goals that are now attainable. I no longer perceive myself as a prisoner, convict, or felon. I am a man who is goal-oriented, studious, and rich with knowledge that can inspire and enable others to see the potential within themselves.