In 2007, I gave someone a second chance. I was in Danbury (Conn.) Federal Correctional Institution recruiting women for a new program for people returning from prison that I was running in New York City.
A woman approached me and handed me her portfolio. It was basically a detailed resume of her accomplishments, skills and goals for the future.
Over a two-year period before this, I had visited at least six female facilities in New York and Connecticut and met hundreds of women looking to enter our program. But when Jamila approached me, something stood out.
She was bold, persistent and confident about her future. Her portfolio showed that she took advantage of every educational program available to her while in prison. When she was released in 2007, I hired her as an administrative assistant intern. Over the next several years she worked her way up to a top management position at the same organization that ran the program.
A decade later I met another person, Chris Wilson, who created a master plan of what he hoped to accomplish in life. He, too, had embraced books, self-education and formal education while incarcerated. Even though he was serving a life sentence, he believed he could get out of prison and persisted until his judge gave him a second chance by reducing his sentence.
Like Jamila, part of Chris’ success stemmed from the opportunity to get a GED, an associate degree and complete many other programs while in prison. But he also went a step further and engaged in many years of self-education — from learning languages to understanding the operations of the stock market. Chris realized that through education, he could achieve success. Once released, Chris developed his own businesses, created artwork and wrote a memoir, titled “The Master Plan: My Journey from a Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose.”
In between meeting Jamila and Chris, I met hundreds of incarcerated people who clung to education as if it were a lifesaver. I know education can transform lives because I see it constantly in the incarcerated — and formerly incarcerated — people I’ve met. I see it every week when I enter prison to direct the University of Baltimore’s Second Chance College Program.