Some of America’s ‘Most Terrific’ Students are Behind Bars

Some of America’s ‘Most Terrific’ Students are Behind Bars

The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act has been in the news this drop-off, as Democratic nominees for chairperson debate the pros and cons of a law which some indict was a major driver of America’s mass captivity crisis.

About one component of the law, which eliminated Pell gifts that supported higher education programs in correctional equipment across the U.S ., however, there has been little debate about its efficiency and effectiveness. Thousands of inpatients lost the chance to gain the educational knowledge they needed to help them find employment after release–and to successfully navigate the outing back to civil society.

auto credit v1A few initiatives stepped in to replenish the educational void–most notably the Bard Prison Initiative( BPI ), founded in 1999 by undergraduates at Bard College in New York State, which supports college-level classes for prisoners in six commonwealth prisons. As the momentum proliferates for resuscitating Pell concedes for incarcerated characters, a new four-part PBS documentary by Ken Burns, College Behind Bars, examines the attainment of the BPI program.

The Crime Report’s Julia Pagnamenta recently spoke with Max Kenner, BPI’s founder, Jule Hall and Giovannie Hernandez, two BPI alumni featured in the film, as well as College Behind Bars administrator Lynn Novick and farmer Sarah Botstein about the ways in which the documentary reaches beyond the BPI program to examine the failures and lacks of the U.S. education system and the “moral argument” that has driven opposition to higher education in prisons, and ultimately the merits of the case of a liberal arts education.

The conversation has been revised for infinite and purity. College Behind Bars will air on local PBS stations on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 at 9/8 Central Time, and will be available for online streaming.

The Crime Report: Max, you say in the documentary that BPI students aren’t considered any differently than only if they are students on Bard’s central Annandale campus. Please elaborate.

Max Kenner: I think that as a college, we are in the market for fabulous students. We are in the market for people who are eager to take advantage of what we have to offer, and we are proactive in trying to find those people who are otherwise not engaged by systems of higher learning, or[ by] our colleges and universities in the United Nation. It’s both reasonably obvious immediately you think about it, and essentially tragic.[ It’s] astonishing, once you recognize that last challenge, and take it on, that the first, and most obvious place to look for that wasted, disconnected aptitude in America is our sprawling, and unbelievably oversized prison system.

TCR: In the documentary, biology prof Mike Tibbetts says his students at BPI came with a “sense of necessity .” Did incarceration change your relationship to education?

Giovannie Hernandez, onetime BPI student: In my experience, education prior to starting my BPI curriculum had always been something prescriptive. You were a passive receiver of information. You were made to memorize these things. You has only just been basically made to take these things for granted. However, BPI heartened you to question these things. It was not, “here take this information.” It was, “here what do you think about this information? ”

We were asked to process on our own terms. How we understood it, and sort of guide it in a way that really developed my ability to process , is not simply ideas, cured me understand myself and my slot in the world much more clearly. The mode I make decisions now, “its more” of a process. What is the worst thing that can happen? What is the best thing that can happen? What are the different ways that you can do this? That happens automatically now.

Jule Hall, former BPI student: The hurry came from the fact that we were adult learners, and we had been removed from the opportunities that education had provided us, and then while we were incarcerated, we started to realign our values to the things that we wanted to aspire to, and we attended education as a tool for that.

Jule Hall

Jule Hall

I would say that the direction we engaged the program was not with a sense of urging. We left that for Max[ Kenner] and the executives to be concerned with. Our urgency came from the idea that I want to absorb and learn as much as I can. This is something that is beneficial to me now in the present circumstance of being incarcerated, because it gives me a brand-new perspective on the world, and how I could affect the world. But also we had that awareness that in the future, we will be exhausted, and we wanted to be released in a manner beneficial for our families, as well as[ for] the society we return to.

TCR: The political gossip around educational programs in prison has changed since BPI began in 1999. There’s an increase in bipartisan support for the grants, but a 2014 initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for tax-payer money educational programs in prisons was repudiated. Antagonists claim it would furnish those imprisoned of crimes with a free ride paid for by taxpayers. Why is there such moral outrage?

Kenner: People who flowed confinements, counselors, community members, and quite a few of victims’ titles societies felt differently in the 1990 s and early 2000 s, than they do now. But there was still a general consensus of experts that college in prison, education in prison, was the best investment. So there was a disagreement in local communities that went on for quite a long time about how to respond to the visceral[ resist] you describe. It made a great deal of effort to persuade our colleagues that the fact that this work is( a) inexpensive and( b) saves enormous amounts of coin in the future is actually unpersuasive.

College in prison at the time cost the Pell program about $35 million.( But) those individuals who stimulated that dispute proposed for a statute which dedicated $10 billion to brand-new confinement interpretation. There was enough money in that bill to fund college for 200 times. So we couldn’t render college, but we could afford the brand-new prisons who really concluded things worse. The vast majority of people who didn’t vote for the bill, or abstained objected to the low-toned number of dollars dedicated to prison construction. $10 billion was not enough.

“The only way you can make real change is by persuading the public to think of beings in the criminal justice system as real parties .”

[ Instead] we speculate the only lane you can make real change in this issue is by persuading the general public to think of people ensnared in the criminal justice system, beings ensnared in prisons and penitentiaries, as real people. As people who could be family members, or neighbours. The moral debate carried the day in the 1990 s, and it will carry the day today. People do not care about money in this context; and if they tell you they do, you should know you can’t believe them.

TCR: Which generates us to BPI’s funding. Most of it comes from private gifts?

Kenner: Historically, that has been true-life. We are one of a very small handful of programs that came into being after the downfall of Pell, and we are generally privately funded. That is less true now.

TCR: Recently, there has been a call for increased investigation over the causes of private funding. What are your thoughts on this? Would BPI even exist if there had been adequate government funding for higher education programs in the criminal justice system?

Max Kenner

Max Kenner

Kenner: There is no question that there are pros and cons to each. We couldn’t exist and raise money the lane we do if we weren’t proximate to New York City. It’s become easier to do in different places as affluence inequality has skyrocketed and there are more rich people. Anyone can make their own moral finding, value judgments about that. Over the long term, and at any flake, the only way to fund these public curricula is through public investments. Full and total stop.

Now if you are me, “youve had” more leveraging, you have more regulate, “youve had” more independence if you are raising private money. That is terrific. You don’t have to report to a assembly, or a voter, or anybody else. There are institutions that exploit curricula like Pell, either for profit or not-for profit institutions that stipulate programs that don’t really take into full account the interest or ambitions of their students. That happens. But I really want to say that we are extremely elicited and very proud that for the first time in 25 years since the Crime Bill, there has been bipartisan legislation to restore Pell eligibility for incarcerated people that is due in large part to Senator Brian Schatz from Hawaii and Mike Lee from Utah.

Investing in Prison Education

We anticipate that it will become law in one form or another in the following financial year or year and a half, and that is a terrific thing for “the two countries “. The happening is, when education was eviscerated in our penitentiary system, the pretending that our Department of Amendment was about anything corrective or rehabilitative was washed away. If there is going to be hope and determination, or any positive quality in these places that we endow so many resources in, college is the place to start.

TCR: Giovannie, in the documentary you said, “I don’t believe in friends in prison, but I believe in friends in my cohort, ” implying a sense of unparalleled trust in your colleague BPI students.

Hernandez: Prison is a shared common fight, and there is a certain fellowship that comes with that. My closest friends now are beings I was formally incarcerated with, even out here, because those are the people who can understand me the most, and who I can understand[ “the worlds largest” ]. Beyond that, there is this other grade: your BPI cohort. And that’s a struggle within a struggle. Like doing college is hard out here, doing college in prison is doubly hard. Not merely that, but you really get to know parties within class, and outside of class. BPI is a community that supports itself. I actually so wishes my peers succeed, just as much as they want to see me succeed.

Jule Hall: I think it is also related to the fact that we were engaging in liberal arts. We were reading( African-American crime writer) Walter Mosley, and some of these philosophers, and we were able to see ourselves in the works that we were reading, and understand ourselves through that predict, and that’s a process, of whoever makes that outing with you, you are going to build an affinity with. But there existed a technological characteristic to it; it was so rigid that we had to band together to help each other learn the material.

We studied in little study groups. We tutored each other. There were times when Giovannie helped me with Algebra, or I might help him with a article, so we were all aware that we were in the same situation. And just as Giovannie described, it has transferred out here because those same relations have been maintained, if not made stronger.

TCR: In the documentary, Jule, you mention that you were interested in studying German, because since World War II, Germany has been trying to amend for its” historical correct .” What about Germany reverberated with you?

Hall: Yes,[ before BPI] there was a dominant theme amongst the cliques that I was a part of, of Germany as this racist society that devoted these atrocities. Nonetheless, when I got into BPI and I saw a German periodical, it had a person of emblazon on the embrace, and it was talking about hip-hop. And I was like, “Wow, wait a minute, this isn’t the German society that I often hear about.” As I dove further, I met that Germany made efforts to make itself a multi-cultural society. I’ve learned from my the studies and predicts that Germany is one of the most commendable democracies in the world today, and I just found that fascinating considering its past.

And what was key to that for better or worse, because it wasn’t all a smooth artery,[ is that] they actively to make an effort to perform civilization better. They recognized that something happened that was wrong. How do we make amends for that? I simply find that so interesting in an American context, of course, with slavery, and the ways we are moving on, but we are never acknowledging that something went wrong. How can we make amends for that?

TCR: Students these days–like their professors–rely increasingly on digital material and resources to conduct their investigate. But due to prison situations, BPI students is not always have access to computers or the internet. You must be given to rely alone on records and physical repositories. Jule, when you were writing your thesis, how did you navigate all your search needs?

Hall: The film involved with this as well. The technological media that are provided in class today are sort of a prop. But we had to go the old-fashioned way. Look at the back of the book; understand what interests us; find a footnote that it related to[ and] make sure that it was related to what we wanted. I likewise want to say that it required a bit of innovation , not only on our portion, but of the heads. We had to test and try things in order to acquire things wield, and I think that is what is so instructive, because that is what education is about. It’s about not just taking a ordinary route to achieve something, but utilizing your head.

Access to Textbooks

In the early stages, I would[ question] any prof, “Would you happen to have access to this book or that record? ” But what we did eventually as things became more organic and whole in the programme, we are genuinely had people on the campus–and I want to say the campus was so supportive of us–[ where] that was their duty. We would send them a inventory of books. And they would pull the books out for us from the campus.

TCR: Upon news of your impending handout, Jule is filmed saying “I better brush up on my German.” At first specific comments comes off as whimsical, since German language talents aren’t the first thing that comes to mind as a practical requisite to life post-incarceration. However, it sounded into a larger theme at the core of BPI. How has what you learned at BPI reverberated in your lives post-incarceration?

Hernandez: What Max calls the ability to think has mapped out my trajectory since I have been home. It has helped me reacclimate to culture. I’ve had an easier term than someone who might not have gone through BPI , is not simply because I am[ more] employable, but because I can identify certain things like distres when it appears.[ I can] be like, All right this does not constitute a normal response, something is going on here. I can identify and think through that. In my professional life, having a degree…that’s gold out here.

TCR: What did you major in?

Hernandez: Literature. I should have majored in the social sciences. I am a suit overseer now for a non-profit. And being able to think through things, being able to identify what my patients need, how they are necessary me to show up in this interaction, that’s really on your foot. You never know how a person is going to show up, and how you have to adapt to that. So that, in a really real way, is how my education–having cultivated that ability to think speedily, to think critically–plays into my daily life.

Hall: It’s amazing how the universe toils, because when I wrote my elderly project there are still three topics that I employed[ with ]: race, maids, and the intersections of culture and migration. And it’s so ironic now that I am working for the Ford Foundation where those are the three wires of direct that my unit hires with. We engage with decarceration, trying to reduce mass incarceration, immigrant claims, as well as advancing gender reproduction justice, and I would have never thought that. I think it’s very important to emphasize that because we–I ponder I can speak for my classmates–engaged in this material with a sincere interest, and not certainly because we envisioned this is going to be what I am going to do when I get out.

In fact, I think we had speeches about that.[ People said] I don’t know whether this is going to help me with when I get out, but it’s so interesting, and I simply desire engaging with it.

A Guest Lecture Ignited the Idea

TCR: Lynn and Sarah, as the film’s director and make, what pressured you to create a film on BPI?

Lynn Novick

Lynn Novick

Lynn Novick, Director: We got asked to give a client lecture in a BPI classroom, at Eastern Correctional Facility in 2012. We went into this classroom to show incidents from our Prohibition movie and talk about that story with exactly your average, everyday BPI class. We didn’t know what well, and it was the most interesting, involved, profound, serious discussion we had about our film, about Prohibition anywhere. As we were leaving, we were really impressed, and sort of startled by the level of academic rigor about the conversation we had just had, and where it was happening, and realized that we had no idea that that existed. We sort of said to each other, Wow this would be an amazing film, but we are kind of busy. And then over time, we just decided that we just really had to obligate the movie. I taught in the program myself.

Sarah Botstein, Producer: One of the worries we had early on, and one of the challenges we faced was that we had never made a verite film together where the theatre is developing as you are shooting. The visual landscape is the same. So every time you go[ there] you upset, “how is this visually going to sustain an audience over go? ” And we found that not only were our cinematographers extraordinary at capture both the sameness and the difference, but actually that played ultimately to a persuasivenes in the film rather than a weakness. We didn’t understand that when we started.

TCR: You filmed in medium and peak protection prisons in New York State. Did you have any trouble getting the correctional administration to grant you so much access to the facilities?

Novick: We had very unusual access, and we ever want to point that out, because that is partly what meets the movie so distinct. That permission had to come from the top of the New York State authority. So on some grade it was the governor’s office and the Department of Correction, and then in each facility it had to be interpreted and dealt with, and that was a little bit more nuanced.

“Education is an essential component of helping people through their incarceration .”

But the Department of Improvement and the New York State authority all understand very well that education is an essential component of helping people right through their captivity in a productive acces. And they recognize that BPI is such an extraordinary program. They genuinely was in favour of a film that would show that.

TCR: College Behind Bars will uncover BPI to a larger audience, to sees who are not able have knowledge of it existed or realized the full extent of its educational programs. What plan outcomes do you hope this documentary derives?

Kenner: The thing we hope it does most of all, and this was fundamental to the decision to make this documentary in the beginning, wasn’t about policy change, though we hope it moves the needle on Pell. It isn’t about fundraising, though we hope that more people that know about us find our effort petitioning and maybe subsidize us at one point or another. We rely on private contributions. That’s not what inspired us to do this. What invigorated us to do this is the cynicism even of many of our best and well-intentioned partisans in government, in philanthropy, even in higher education. The mistrust of the ability of our students. The level of their achievement, and the pleasure with which they go about their see, demanded to be documented.

I can walk into a humanitarian footing and talk the working day about how well our students do,[ but] nobody feels how well they actually do until they see it for themselves. They have an idea in their intellects of someone doing something mediocre and that’s just fine, and that’s a good utilize of fund. That’s not what happens. BPI students achieve things in undergraduate classrooms at the same level as any college in the United Position. That says huge amounts about not only what a waste our penitentiary system are, and can be, but too how we administer education the resources available to the United Position. And the cynicism and oversight with which we treat young people from communities of color, but too across the board. When it comes to education the expectations and ignore with which we treat young people in the United Position is an outrage.

There are two things I love most when I watch this documentary. The first is to think about all the ways incarcerated beings are generally represented on broadcast television. Just how heartless, and deceptive, and unjustified those illustrations are, and watching this film in the purposes of the that normal is an amazing thing. Second thing I love to do when I watch this movie is, everyone is going to assume that the filmmakers picked the brightest, most articulated, most good search attributes, just like social scientists and donors always think we just skim the best.

When I look at their[ Novick and Botstein’s] movie, I enjoy gazing in those classrooms, at all the people who aren’t major reputations, knowing how curious and bold, and express and generous, all of them are. We could have picked two or three more assigns that would have been just as good as the group in the film , not over the twenty years of doing the slog,[ but] at the moment the movie was being produced.

Novick: As it happens when we started the cinema[ in 2014 ], this didn’t definitely sounds like a front and center publication, and now it’s much more in our national conversation, and that’s really exciting. The cinema can help maybe inform the conversation at the minimum, and drive citizens to ask, “Why don’t we have more[ education programs] in a facility or in a state? ” Just questioning our public officials about what they are doing.

That’s a good start. Our lead institutions of higher learning that have big endowments–what are they do with all that money, and who are they educating? Who are they seeing worthy of their intellectual gifts? Those are big questions.

TCR: When the BPI debate team acquired against Harvard in 2015, it reached international headlines. The documentary depicts a few headlines and times, nonetheless, that turned Harvard’s loss against BPI into a joke, solid this narrative of underestimation that the general public has of incarcerated beings.

Kenner: When that happened there was enormous, world fanfare, and there was very little pushback of[ the category] you were alluding to before, and that caught me. In this area, we have a history of being afraid of our own pall a little. It schooled me something about how we think about these issues in the United States.

One of the first things you learn is how much people like to see Harvard lose. That was real, and you can’t talk about it without mentioning that, but too speaking about cynicism, how typically in the United State when we were discussing increasing school access or opportunity, peculiarly when we talk about doing it for free, the thing that beings hear in their psyches is that we are providing some kind of handout, or that we are lowering standards to provide something for parties that they haven’t earned. And the symbolism of overcoming in an objectively guessed debate the most prestigious, and famed, and elite university in the United Country, signals to parties implicitly that this was not a handout, that the education was real, and the accomplishments were sincere, and therefore in that context, that kind of resentment melted apart. It was a terrific lesson.

Botstein:[ After the Harvard debate] I left with the Harvard minors because we wanted to interview them outside of prison. I was searching for my phone to say, “They earned, they won! ” And then I remember talking to Max[ Kenner ], like what is going to happen? And then the whole world exploded, so that is just indeed an adventure in the process of originating the cinema. And then we actually had to make sure we didn’t tip the scale too much. That the debate is really a great part of BPI, but what is happening in the classroom is actually the anchor of what happens at BPI. You don’t want to overdo it, like BPI is a college with a great debate team. BPI is a great college, and like other huge colleges it has a debate team. Just like it has an alumni party, just like it has a play. And that’s an important distinction.

TCR: In the documentary, one of the BPI professors, who likewise schools at the central Bard campus, Donna Ford Grover, says of BPI students, “It’s like learn graduate students.”

Kenner: Sure, beings are grownups.

TCR: It are not only that they are grownups. BPI students likewise come in with a different located of knowledge.

Max Kenner: I mull the reason we get such terrible faculty, and why so many wonderful both teachers and professors was intended to coach for us, is because they recognize instant when they are in one of our classrooms, how much is at stake for our students. Students making a sense of seriousnes, and desire, and dream and starvation, to those classrooms that[ module] are unaccustomed to, and that is absolutely riveting and terrible if you as a faculty member, if you as an intellectual or prof, also think so much is at stake.

Julia Pagnamenta is a contributing writer at The Crime Report. She accepts explains from readers.

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