Seven men obtained access to higher education while incarcerated through a new partnership between the University of New Haven and Yale University’s Prison Education Initiative. The Yale program was launched in 2016 by alum Zelda Roland. In 2021, a $1.5 million grant donation from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation allowed the initiative to develop a degree-granting program for aspiring students who are serving out prison sentences in Connecticut. The program, which offers classes at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution and the federal women’s prison in Danbury, now includes 15 schools and prison systems nationwide. Those who are on parole are also allowed to participate, with guidance to careers after they are released.
The graduation ceremony was held for the first group of graduates at MacDougall-Walker on Friday, June 9th, in Suffield, CT. The men were excited to be known beyond their criminal background and more so for their academic achievements. Each graduated with high honors, meaning they maintained at least a 3.5 GPA throughout their studies. Some now have greater aspirations to pursue esteemed professions, such as law school. One of the program’s graduates and valedictorian, Alpha Jalloh, encouraged the graduates and others to use learning to empower themselves because the world needs every one of their voices. Graduate Evan Holmes, who is 11 years into a 70-year sentence, stated that while challenging, the program was immensely rewarding. Holmes stated he is maximizing his time spent inside, even though he is not able to leave. Graduate, Marcus Harvin, received his Associate degree in general studies from the University of New Haven and hopes to become a defense attorney someday.
Some may remember Marcus Harvin, who spent six years in prison, for his involvement in a highly publicized drunk driving accident that injured his two young children. Marcus stated, “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. People even think I’m lying sometimes, so I’ll show them my jail I.D. and my Yale I.D.” Harvin stated that it also gives inmates something that may be less tangible but perhaps just as important – hope. We congratulate all the graduates and wish them, future graduates, and this program, much success.
Article Written by: Janet Downs| Janet Downs is an instructor with over 20 years of experience, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. She volunteers and is a resource for the homeless community and is working towards starting her own non-profit. She’s passionate about mental health and seeks to bring more awareness to the black community. She is active in church ministry, a writer, and loves music, hiking, and travel.