Attending College in Prison

(Editor’s note: The Vanguard is proud to announce a new project in partnership with Incarcerated Allied Media.  Thanks to Dr. Joan Parkin and D. Razor Babb.  These articles are published by Incarcerated Individuals at Mule Creek State Prison and part of the Mule Creek Post publication.)

By Gabriel Estrada

IT IS SAID that college is an institution of higher learning; however, most haven’t gone through a correctional institution to get there. Fortunately, I’ve had the privilege to attend college while incarcerated, yet it has come with many challenging conditions and obstacles.

When I came to prison almost 20 years ago there was talk of college, but this talk failed to mention the difficulties involved in finding a college and paying for it. Moreover, it was not structured as it is now through the Post-Secondary Continuing Education program (formerly known as the Voluntary Education Program). But changes have been made to allow prisoners the opportunity to attend college in prison. Now, there are several colleges that incarcerated students can choose from, with most of the tuition and fees waived by the state, some with books and materials supplied free of charge.

Even though access to college in prison has been made easier, there are still plenty of challenges to overcome, such as lockdowns, COVID-19 restrictions, quarantines, and a lack of quiet places to study. Yet, we do what we have to do in order to overcome these challenges.

For those of us fortunate to attend, we get a sense of pride each time we complete a difficult assignment, course, or semester. It’s especially gratifying when we can show our loved ones that we’re in college. No one can take this from us. We even have the added benefit of earning milestone completion credits to shorten our sentences, three weeks for each course. There is great incentive for anyone, whether it’s to earn a degree or milestones, and we get to learn something in the process.

My journey has had its ups and downs, but not even a pandemic has been enough to discourage me from my ultimate goal of earning a psychology degree with a minor in criminal justice. I want to use it to help others, to keep them from making the same mistakes I made, to let them know there are other options to the criminal lifestyle and prison. I hope that we can someday close this revolving door of incarceration; I know we can do it through education. We do not have to be defined by our pasts. We can become productive, contributing members of society upon release. We can do this by attending college in prison.

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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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