By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ
SAN CUNTIN, California ( Associated Press) – A few meters behind a half-wall and a razor blade and a death row in California, students at one of the nation’s finest colleges discuss 9/11 attacks and issues of ethics, identity and nationalism.
Dressed in blue uniforms, the students are released only when a guard enters the room, calling out the last name of each person and holding the last two digits of their prison number.
They are students at Mount Tampais College in San Quintin State Prison, the first recognized junior college in the country behind bars. Prisoners can study literature, astronomy, US government, pre-calculus, and more to earn an Arts Associate degree.
The college, named for a mountain near the prison, was recognized in January after a 19-member commission from the Western Schools and Colleges Association decided to provide quality education based on the San Cuntin extension program.
“This is a huge step forward in the education system,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Board of Education.
Mitchell said Mount Tamalpais College is a “unique model” of self-government that is not seen in prison-related prison programs.
The new designation will force the school to maintain the high standards set by the college association and attract donors’ attention to expand the college, said President Jodi Levon. It can accommodate 300 students per semester, with another 200 on the waiting list.
The college is one of the dozens of educational, vocational, and self-help programs for the 3,100 inmates in the San Quantin Central Prison, making it a desirable destination for statewide inmates who want to move there.
“I knew I was coming this way; instead, I was in a special event all my life,” said Derry Brown, 49, a Cosmopolitant novelist in English 101, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid.
Brown, who is serving a 20-year sentence for theft and assault, received a GED in prison and is now proud to be a college student. When he was released the following year, he said he could pursue a career in music in his hometown of Los Angeles.
“There is joy in learning – that’s why I want to continue,” he said.
The college’s $ 5 million annual budget is fully funded by private donations, with paid staff and volunteer faculty, many of whom are university graduates, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley.
The first program began in 1996 and was later renamed the Prison Project, and offers fellowships, but she said she started volunteering as a teacher in 1999, when she was three years old at the university. In collaboration with the closed.
“Often in higher education, people look at educational programs in prisons and say, ‘Well, that’s a program or a project. Not a school ‘Our hope is to be an independent, accredited, liberal arts college that works in prisons and helps people not to forget what they are inside and to make our students think differently.
Any general San Cuntin prisoner with a high school diploma or GED certificate is eligible to participate. The 539 prisoners sentenced to death did not include prisoners.
In one of the corners of the prison’s practice camp, security guards check the IDs of students coming into the classroom, where students stop to discuss their assignments – correctional officers look at the four towers above.
Listening to those compound words, Richard’s “Bonaru” After being transferred to San Cuntin in 2007, he was sentenced to 47 years in prison for robbery. Former governor Jerry Brown has amended Richarderson’s sentence and was released last year after 23 years.
“In other institutions, we used to talk about gang activity, riots, knives, drugs, and riots,” he said.
In San Quintin, the talks often focused on what classes they were learning, how to write thesis, or how to avoid arguments.
“I was shocked. ‘Wait, shouldn’t this be a prison?’ It was like that. ”
After seeing a group of female volunteers walking around the prison compound, he decided to enroll.
“I entered class for the wrong reasons, but I realized that I was learning something and that there were people who believed in you more than you believed in yourself. When you see that, you start to believe in yourself. ”
During his 14 years in San Quintin, 47-year-old Richardson became the editor-in-chief of the San Quantin News, a broadcaster that publishes 35 prisons in California. Education while in prison.
He now works as a development partner by assisting the college’s communications and fundraising departments.
“Like me, some may be the only ones in their family who have a college degree and that will motivate your children to continue their education. For some, this is the greatest achievement of their life, ”said Richardson.
Doug Arwin, a high school humanities teacher, began volunteering this year and teaches English 101, which focuses on critical thinking.
He said he would love to help his students “share their experiences and share their humanity with each other.”
There are times when the student realizes that they have created a beautiful paragraph in their essay and offers some interesting points. Like any other student, you can see how it helps them to develop self-confidence, ”says Arwin.
Teaching in San Quintin is also a unique experience. The process of going through the security layers, teaching a two-hour class and re-cleaning security at the end of the day takes about five hours, Arwin said. He spends many extra hours preparing paperwork and preparing the course twice a week.
Many of the students dropped out of school at an early age or went to dangerous public schools, says Arwin.
“I really believe in the values that Tampalese College enjoys in terms of providing free education to inmates because, according to a social science study, the best way to reduce the incidence of RCD is to provide educational programs while incarcerated. It’s arguably the best rehabilitation program, ”said Arwin, whose father spent time in prison.
A.D. In a 2013 Rand survey, 43% of inmates who participated in correctional programs were less likely to re-offend and 13% less likely to find employment.
Jesse Vasquez, 39, said he had read about the program in San Quintin News and had decided to move there. one day.
Vasquez took mail to college programs in other prisons, but studying in the San Quantin class helped him realize his potential and realized that he was at the “Reform Center”.
His teachings made him doubt what he had learned and helped him develop critical thinking skills, which he called “critical times.”
Vasquez’s sentence was changed in 2018 after more than 19 years. A.D. Released in 2019 and now works for the non-profit San Quintin News friends who support the newspaper.
He said enrolling the students in a community community college would be a great incentive for them to pursue higher education and hoped that other prisons would have their own colleges.
“Suddenly many people ask, ‘Hey, what if we could try this revolutionary idea somewhere else?’ You may be more open to the idea.