Guest Post: A Letter From Andre Pierce, Wesleyan Student and Cheshire Correctional Institution Prisoner

“Wesleyan Aids a Prisoner in Rehabilitation”

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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.

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22 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Letter From Andre Pierce, Wesleyan Student and Cheshire Correctional Institution Prisoner

  1. DicDeDrick

    All the negativity is crazy. Not only do I know Andre personally I was incarcerated with him. I also benefited from a college education in PRISON. Five years I’ve been free and what have I accomplished. I’ve started my own real estate business. I’m a CEO of a real estate company and best believe when my Boy Dre come home he set for life. Real recognize real.

  2. Pingback: Apply to Volunteer with the Center for Prison Education | Wesleying

  3. Lauren Steiner

    What a great program. And kudos to the Wesleyan students who founded it, and to the college for developing and I assume teaching the courses.

  4. Grey

    We should all respect this man’s passion, introspection, insight, and motivation. To say he is not a Wesleyan student is incredibly insulting not only to Andre, who works incredibly hard and deserves to be called a Wesleyan student, but to the entire Wesleyan community who should be embracing him 100%. Also, the implication that somebody doesn’t deserve education due to their criminal past is very prejudiced, the only way to stop the cycle of crime, as Andre so eloquently points out, is through education and understanding. I applaud Andre.

  5. boots

    this guy is awesome. when he gets out he should be invited to campus. imagine how amazing this campus would be if everyone was this passionate.

  6. Nice try, Techies

    Lol just because Wesleyan students started a program for this guy to take classes in prison does not make him a Wesleyan student

    1. anon

      he is getting college credit for wesleyan classes taught by wesleyan professors. i’m pretty sure that’s also what makes you a wesleyan student.

      1. Nice Try, Anon

        No– being in classes with other Wesleyan students, on Wesleyan’s campus, makes you a Wesleyan student. In fact, BEING ENROLLED in the university makes you a Wesleyan student. I can take the new online courses that Wesleyan is offering for free– and are being “taught” by Wesleyan professors– but that does not make me a Wesleyan student.

        1. Batte_A

          I wasn’t going to say anything about the generally hostile attitudes towards educating The Wrong Kind of People in this thread, but there are so many errors here I really couldn’t ignore it.

          “No– being in classes with other Wesleyan students, on Wesleyan’s campus, makes you a Wesleyan student.” This is precisely what students in the CPE are. CPE classes are held in classrooms within the prisons, and the York and Cheshire programs are consistently referred to as campuses throughout the CPE website (http://www.wesleyan.edu/cpe/). If by “campus”, you mean “on Wesleyan’s property in Middletown”, then are you going to disqualify students taking time off or time abroad, or people in classes that primarily meet off campus? This seems like a big deal. You should probably email the administration with your concern so they can quickly correct the mistake – though I expect the error will be yours, not the administration’s.

          The CPE website reads: “Through the CPE, prisoners […] are
          invited to apply to take accredited Wesleyan courses taught by Wesleyan
          faculty members.” This looks a lot like recruiting to me. I guess we better identify and eliminate those Wesleyan “students” who went to high schools where recruiters visited too, eh? And kids who got packets from Wesleyan in their mailboxes for their standardized test scores. Who do those posers think they are?!

          “After a rigorous application process, eighteen
          selected students are transferred to Cheshire Prison, where they are
          enrolled in courses that receive full Wesleyan credit.” Wait, a selective applications process creates a small pool of students who receive college credit through regular, _in-person_ interaction with Wesleyan professors and course assistants who are also Wesleyan undergraduates? If “BEING ENROLLED in the university makes you a Wesleyan student”, then again your own definition _includes_ the prisoners.

          If you think that this program is bull because the prisoners don’t pay to go to school, I would love to hear what you’d have to say to anyone on significant or full-ride scholarships in the 06459 zip code. If your problem is that Dre and the other CPE students aren’t the “traditional” students that ‘oh please’ refers to, then I’d love to hear what your definition of a “traditional” student is, and why they deserve a good education more than anyone else.

          And as realtalk said, “Wesleyan tuition dollars do not pay for the incarcerated students’ education.” But if they did, that would be just fine.

          1. '10

            Well said. The “Nice Try” commenter isn’t able to engage in the more important and nuanced aspects of a conversation like this, so s/he has to resort to a blunt and ill-defined “I don’t like this, so it’s wrong.”

          2. No

            The “Nice Try” commenter(s, maybe) is a troll, and does not care about “nuanced aspects of a conversation like this”. This reply just kind of validates their existence

    2. Appreciate Accomplishment

      He is absolutely a Wesleyan student. And, it sounds like he’s made far more of his Wesleyan education, and developed a more significant appreciation of it, than many of the entitled “students” on campus.

      1. oh please

        excuse me? those students’ tuitions are what allow men like Andre to take classes at a world-class university like Wesleyan. how could you possibly compare his experiences with those of more traditional Wes students? does his criminal record somehow sound better to you than a student’s entitlement?

        1. Chile (here to feed the troll)

          You’re right–we pay to be here, while he does not; we worked hard to get accepted to Wesleyan, while he didn’t have to apply. In fact, as you point out, our tuitions are one reason he is able to have this opportunity. Yet our privilege does not grant us the right to be arrogant, self-righteous, or childish (and yes, I mean to insinuate that you are being all of these). This program is one way that Wesleyan gives back. By counting CPE students such as Andre as Wesleyan students, we are recognizing the need to have an impact outside of our silly little bubble (and we are recognizing the existence of our silly little bubble). If it’s a Wesleyan syllabus with a Wesleyan professor under the Wesleyan name, then Andre is a Wesleyan student, and any argument otherwise is inane.

          1. get your facts right

            1. Some people at Wes pay to be at Wes. Many others attend because of full or partial financial aid packages.
            2.True, Andre doesn’t pay to attend, but all his program costs are covered through private donations, and professors take on classes with CPE in addition to their responsibilities on the main campus.
            3. You had to apply, and so did everyone enrolled through CPE.

          2. Chile

            fair enough. your second and third points I was not aware of, but they only validate my argument. you’re third point i obviously knew–it was nothing more than a momentary brain slip.

        2. realtalk

          A few clarifications: The Center for Prison Education is funded entirely by private donations. Wesleyan tuition dollars do not pay for the incarcerated students’ education. There is a rigorous admissions process to get into the program.

          Otherwise, I would suggest that It’s not about which student is “better,” but expanding access to education for all populations.

        3. '10

          Hmm, CPE is funded entirely privately, not through any Wes tuition dollars. However, prisons ARE paid for with your tax dollars, so probably best to reform and release, huh?

    3. '10

      Being enrolled in a Wesleyan class makes you a Wesleyan student. I’m disheartened to learn there are individuals out there who can’t follow that simple logic.

  7. Jark

    Amazing story! I don’t know you, Andre Pierce, but I’m REALLY happy for and proud of you. :)

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