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Connecticut prison hosts graduation ceremony for incarcerated students: 'It's liberating'

Seven incarcerated students are part of the first class to graduate as a part of Yale Prison Education Initiative.

Connecticut prison hosts graduation ceremony for incarcerated students: 'It's liberating'
Cover Image Source: Facebook | Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall at Yale

Everyone deserves a second chance. It's rare to get an opportunity to better themselves but that is what some inmates did when they graduated after being incarcerated at the Macdougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut. Alpha Jallow received his diploma. He and six other inmates are among the first to graduate from the Yale Prison Education Initiative and the University of New Haven. The YPEI spearheaded this initiative, offering Yale courses at Macdougall-Walker Correctional Institution and Manson Youth Institution in 2018. The University of New Haven joined in 2021, offering two and four-year degrees to incarcerated students. "It took a lot to get here. I was incarcerated six years ago. I never thought about attending college," said Jallow.



The emotional graduation ceremony was hosted by a Connecticut prison. Another graduating student, Maurice Blackwell, said the program put him on a better path. He will be released from prison in 2027 with his degree and fresh outlook on life. "It should be clear that this cap and gown speaks a different language, speaks a language of accomplishment. It's liberating, and I want to move forward and keep prison behind," said Blackwell. Loved ones were also there to support them, reports NBC Connecticut. "I'm so excited to be here and to witness this. It's something I never saw before, but it's very inspiring to me to see him get this far," said Blackwell's fiancé, Tiffany Williams. "It's also inspired me to start college." 



Marcus Harvin, a co-graduate, is moving toward law school, hoping to become a defense attorney someday, while being a parolee, having recently been released from the maximum security MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution after serving six years in prison for a drunken driving accident that injured his two young children. "That name, Yale, means so much because I’m from New Haven and to be able to study at Yale and begin studying in prison is unheard of," said Harvin. "People even think I’m lying sometimes, so I’ll show them my jail I.D. and my Yale I.D." The program, initiated by alum Zelda Roland offers classes at McDougall-Walker, the federal women’s prison in Danbury and 15 schools and prison systems across the country, reported AP News.



"We believe that this is a transformative program, that it has the potential to make a generational impact," said Roland, who serves as the director of the Yale-UNH partnership. "We believe that we’re transforming not just individual student’s lives, but also the institutions that we work in, both the universities and correctional system." Governor Ned Lamont delivered the commencement address, recognizing each graduating student for their hard work. "We define our own futures and today is the start of that," Lamont said.

"You learn from the past, but you define your own future. And what happens in your future is going to be your legacy. And I want you to have a really important story to tell." According to UNH officials, slightly more than 20% of inmates in prison receive some form of higher education. Studies also show that those who do are far less likely to have behavioral issues in prison and far less likely to commit crimes after they are released.

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