‘The lifelong collateral damage after even one stay in jail is financially, emotionally and socially devastating.’
“I’ve taught in higher education since 2003 and seen the transformative power of education. I also know the life-changing effect it had on me as a student.
“High school wasn’t something I enjoyed. I might have dropped out if it weren’t for a few teachers and my mother’s insistence. I was raised by a single parent who no doubt had her hands full with me, never mind my three other sisters.
“It was at the urging of my senior-year English teacher that I applied to college; otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have done so. I loved it. I loved the independence and learning about different ideas, experiences and people.
“I slowly became more aware of my connection to the world and its connection to me. For me, college summoned so much, including the courage to explore my sexual identity, in time feeling safer to come out.
We needed to create a program conducive to the environment.
“Eventually, I obtained my PhD. Like me, there are people who don’t enjoy high school — and for different reasons than my own. I find nevertheless that people want to learn and like learning. I’ve experienced that in the jails where I teach college-oriented modules. I want those students who others have counted out and underestimated.
“Like many, I have family members who struggled with addiction and ended up in jail. The lifelong collateral damage after even one stay in jail is financially, emotionally and socially devastating. So I founded Sound Justice Initiative Inc. [SJI], and in July 2021, we began teaching in Suffolk jails.
“The first six months we had 96 class seats occupied; in 2022 we had over 500 seats taken in our classes. Jails are short-term facilities, which typically don’t offer college-level opportunities because the population is in flux. We needed to create a program conducive to the environment. For our students, it’s not always easy to concentrate. Their lives have been upended. They’re worried about their kids, parents and other loved ones.
“The fact is, many will leave jail and reenter our communities. For those who qualify, SJI helps establish an education pathway plan for reentry. After all, it’s more likely that if they attain a degree or obtain advanced vocational training, their children will follow and end the family cycle.”
Interviewed by Liza Burby