Many of our former students remain committed to a life of service upon paroling and are often strong advocates for those still inside. We’re proud to share some reflections from our alumni community.
The College Program works towards the incarcerated in fighting for them to achieve higher education. I’m inspired by the dedication of the volunteers and how they are passionate about volunteering their own time.
Even though I never graduated from the Prison University Project, I have been to many graduation ceremonies and see how the graduates themselves are more confident and have a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. I’ve also seen how proud their families feel from siblings, parents, kids, and relatives. The hard work and dedication to achieving a college degree goes beyond a piece of paper.
For former students, giving back to those incarcerated is a must. We were all given a second chance. There are still our brothers inside that need our support in any way possible, whether helping them achieve their freedom or a higher sense of purpose.
I left prison on May 1, 2020. I am not ashamed of who I am, a formerly incarcerated citizen and my past is a part of who I am. If we can’t accept other people for who they are, then the meaning of life itself will never be revealed.
College taught me to always sit in the back of the class when you want to get other work done. 🙂
Education overall provides opportunity to the incarcerated. When you walk into any prison classroom, the majority of students are people of color and that is a systemic issue. The fact that the Prison University Project offers a free education to the disenfranchised and system impacted, it lets them see a future without bars both physically and mentally.
I am passionate about comedy, community service, and social justice.
Since paroling this spring, I’ve been reconnecting with society in general, formerly incarcerated friends, and hoping to find work, love, and a winning lotto ticket.
I joined the Prison University Project because I wanted to continue learning.
Whenever I’m not learning something, I feel like I start drowning.
I wanted to accomplish a personal goal besides getting out of prison on time; the Prison University Project was helping me do that by offering a degree.
While I was in college, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s disorder). This opened up a whole new facet of my life and learnings. The Prison University Project helped me to better understand my learning needs and helped me learn in fields that I believed I couldn’t because of my condition.
It also helped me communicate and advocate to the San Quentin’s administration for seriously needed things like eyeglasses.
Prison University Project staff also treated me like a person, like a real human rather than a third-rate animal that most of the custody staff treated all of us like in the prison system; something to be tolerated and not treated humanely.
I paroled on December 4, 2019. I got to hug all my favorite Prison University Project staff members that day. it was a great day for me. Since then, I’ve worked side by side with them to make care packages for the inmate population of San Quentin. I’ve kept in touch and made fast friends.
Even now Prison University Project staff members are helping me find stable work and hopefully housing here in the city of San Francisco.
I didn’t graduate inside, but I got to take my learnings with me and now I am transferring to San Francisco State; with credits that I earned, I only have to take one class before I can focus solely on a double major in the arts.
Thank you, Prison University Project, for always.
I joined what later became the Prison University Project for the chance to earn some more college credits and because it provided both a challenge and a positive program. It’s much better to challenge the mind, and perhaps improve it, rather than spend one’s time watching TV or lounging in the yard.
I cannot locate my diploma, but I must have graduated around 2000, or just before. I was released in October of 2004, completing parole in 2009.
I think the most significant impact the Prison University Project had on myself, and most of my fellow students, was bolstering our self-esteem and personal confidence. That, and the competition against ourselves. It gave me a feeling of self-accomplishment—not to mention improved communications skills.
I enjoyed the instructors and the exposure to people from the community and not just the prison system.
There were some great classes and other activities. One volunteer weekend class was called “The Sunflower”. Not a class for credit, but a great experience.
Since paroling, I initially held self-help classes at the local half-way house for a few years and spent a lot of time just recovering social and technical skills that I lost during 22 years of incarceration. I am now eighty and after numerous medical problems do very little other than day-to-day existence.
In summary, the college program was the most enjoyable and helpful program I experienced during my incarceration. I think that the more inmates that take classes, then lower the inside violence and return to the insanity of drugs and crime.
What inspired me to join the Prison University Project? There is a saying, which speaks to our conditions in San Quentin, “Sink or Swim”, and it also means, “To Live or Die”. My mind turned to survival mode early in my life-to-term sentence in 1983. The criminal justice system preferred that I would never see freedom again, at least not in this lifetime. The term was 34 years consecutive to a “life-with-the possibility” to parole. I was 27 years old in 1983, and this meant that if I was to survive the violence of prison conditions, I would be very old if released from prison.
When I turned away from drugs and gangs in prison, my attention went to reading and writing. As a proven road to rehabilitation, education held the best promise. But, the local, state, and federal government had other plans for the helpless prisoners. In rejecting higher education for men and women in prison, the government defunded college programs for inmates. For many years, self education was the best we could manage. Not until the Prison University Project’s College Program, were we finally able to connect with the opportunity of a higher education. I was so grateful to the people who put the Prison University Project together. Privately funded, the program gave us hope to experience redemption through education.
Of course, attending college in San Quentin was an odd thing, because it made us feel free and special. Unfortunately, most people could not see us as human beings, due to the scourge of a past that was covered over with cruel and criminal behaviors. Nonetheless, forging ahead with the Prison University Project, many inmates worked diligently, alongside countless volunteers, and became college graduates. From these moments, all of the graduates who were found suitable for release on parole went on to become honorable citizens in society. Currently, I am on parole after completing a second college program in my community (SacTown), a Chemical Dependency Certificate, in the fourth successful year on supervision. Soon I shall be discharged, and will be looking forward to becoming a volunteer with the Prison University Project. In no small way, the Prison University Project helped me to become a better, stronger human being. My family has forgiven me, and accepted me into this new life. Prison life was not a complete failure. The trauma of having served a life term has been partially negated, and I can continue to live as a freedom loving soul.