Colin Asher writes in the Los Angeles Review of Books on the Prison University Project. Excerpt below:
There is a college in California whose campus, if it can be called that, consists of a few portable trailers. Classes are also taught inside a converted laundry facility whose walls don’t reach the ceiling, where learning happens despite the din created by dozens of men in adjacent rooms vying for their teacher’s attention. The school is called the Prison University Project (referred to affectionately as ‘PUP’ by students and instructors alike). It teaches 20 classes a semester and has a total enrollment of under 400 students.
The campus is housed within San Quentin State Penitentiary, also home to California’s death row and to a reception center where new inmates are categorized and sorted by race and security level. Most prisoners then enter the general population at San Quentin, but some are sent to one of the state’s thirty-two other prisons. Those who don’t stay miss their chance at a college education, because no other prison in California offers one.
No one expects much of California’s prisoners. Many of them have been locked up before. They “want to be called convicts, emphasis on the con,” a former PUP student told me about his fellow inmates. “Some might say this is not their first rodeo.” Chances are, they will be incarcerated again. Seventy percent of the state’s inmates are arrested within three years of their release. And so, no one expected much of Leonard Hutton when he left San Quentin in 2008.