The Road from Prison to College Graduation
As students across the country rejoiced and attended their graduation ceremonies, a particular graduation celebration took place that brought together college graduates who were formerly incarcerated. The College and Community Fellowship (CCF) supported these students, despite their run-ins with the law, to help them achieve access to and success through higher education.
CCF is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing formerly incarcerated women with numerous resources, encouragement and access to higher education to help them reenter society, preventing recidivism. According to CCF, 66 percent of incarcerated individuals without a degree are likely to return to prison within three years of release. However, with a bachelor’s degree, only 5.6 percent of criminal justice-involved persons are likely to return and with a master’s degree, less than 1 percent.
A recurring theme addressed at the graduation was continuing discrimination and punishment CCF students experienced when reintegrating into society, for a crime that was already paid in full. The class valedictorian, Felicia, stated that after being released from prison she faced extreme prejudice in the job market. Yet she received “unwavering support” from CCF and later graduated from CUNY School of Law. She intends to fight discrimination against people with criminal records in employment, housing, and education.
Participants of the program are proud of the hurdles they have overcome and feel empowered through their education. A total of 228 CCF participants have received their degrees, and many have reported an overall positive outlook in life. Wendy Porrata, who has been involved with CCF since 2003, said, that CCF helped her receive her GED, bachelor’s degree, and recently her master’s degree in social work from Hunter College. “I was paired with a committed tutor who helped me with my writing skills and my public speaking skills, and we met every week to get me on my feet.”
Zaida Sanchez, currently studying at Bronx Community College, expressed how intimidated she felt when facing the idea of going back to school. “Being involved in CCF changed all of that.” She stated the inspiration CCF instilled in her as well as the mentors and guidance the organization provided, all of which allowed her to go back to school and to continue her studies.
The day was marked with singing, presentations of scholarships for excellence, and some graduates crying from joy. “CCF helped me with everything … I’m so grateful for them standing by me,” exclaimed Tara Nace, a graduate who recently received her associate’s degree from Metropolitan College of New York. “Education will allow me to move up the ladder in human services towards my eventual goal of director, or possibly a CEO of human services agency.”