“Wesleyan Aids a Prisoner in Rehabilitation”
Andre Pierce writes in to share his experience as a member of the Wesleyan community through the Center for Prison Education:
In 2009 Wesleyan University entered Cheshire Correctional Institution (C.C.I.) and began aiding in my rehabilitation. My enrollment in the Center for Prison Education (CPE) has first and foremost improved me as a student. My identity as a student is one in which I take pride. Unfortunately, I’m more than a student; I’m also a prisoner, one who’s on a reach for rehabilitation. I, however, prefer to not compartmentalize my identity as a college student and prisoner, but rather have them interact and feed off of each other. I use the tools acquired as a student to cross over and aid in my rehabilitation.
CPE was co-founded by former Wesleyan students Lexi Sturdy ’10 and Russell Perkins ’10. They brought CPE to prison grounds in 2009, allowing for prisoners at C.C.I. to earn college credits from courses on par with those offered on campus. I, along with 18 other prisoners, was accepted into the program after submitting two essays and undergoing an interview. My initial academic performance was mediocre at best resulting largely from a lack of focus and discipline as opposed to a lack of academic acumen. However, over the course of three years I gained a focus and discipline that allowed me to progress from an undisciplined mediocre student to one of great discipline and proficiency.
I witnessed the tools I acquired as a student to carry over into my life as a prisoner thus, aiding in my rehabilitation. For example, the discipline and focus that allows me to sit engrossed in hours of intense study now allows me to sit in hours of self-contemplation reviewing my past life of crime. The critical thinking skills I developed from close readings of my work assignments has given me the mental tools to reflect critically on my prior criminal behavior and how my actions have affected others. The writing skills I have been steadily refining from writing and rewriting papers have afforded me the skills to journal my past and present and gain greater clarity of each.
While my rehabilitation has been aided by the discipline, writing, and critical thinking skills achieved as a student, I also benefited greatly by many of the thought-provoking courses that have broadened and reshaped my world view. For example, a course in Political Philosophy has trained me to view my social reality in political terms, thus gaining greater insight into how political institutions have helped shape my reality. A course in Political Science has taught me the importance of getting involved with government at the local level in order to affect change, while a course in Sociology has taught me make the larger social connections between my “hood” and the greater society. I now see how my impoverished, drug-infested, and crime-ridden community was shaped by a deprivation of social resources such as employment and recreational centers, to name a few. In short, I no longer discuss my social reality in limited terms instead, thanks to an expansion of my world view from my college courses; I now view my past and present reality through political and sociological lens.
The discipline, skills and ideological expansion that I acquired as Wesleyan student have done more than aid in my rehabilitation, although that would be a great achievement in and of itself. My improvement as a student has also inspired in me a sense of social and communal activism. I intend to return to the blighted community — in which I grew up — and become active in helping to improve it. As a writer, I would like to critically explore the root cause of crime and the street culture, which have been a detriment to my own life, as well as the lives of my family and friend. By exploring this link, I hope to provide greater understanding of the destructive culture from which I emerged. And through such understanding, I hope to inspire others to become active in helping to deconstruct a culture that has created a pipeline that circulates from prison to the street and back to prison.
While my quest for self-reformation may have begun with a personal desire for change, it was aided by the skills, discipline, and broadened worldview achieved as a student, in many of the courses I have taken. And as I grow as a student, I grow closer to becoming a reformed prisoner who engages in social and communal activism.
If interested in working with the CPE or acquiring more information, contact Maddie Neufeld ’12 (the current CPE fellow) at mneufeld(at)wesleyan(dot)edu.