For the first time, American prisoners graduate from top universities
(Reuters) – Northwestern University’s Prison Education Program welcomed its first graduating class of incarcerated students on Wednesday, the first time a top-ranking U.S. university has awarded degrees to students in prison.
Northwestern University, based in Evanston, Illinois, which is ranked ninth among national universities by US News & World Report, runs the program in partnership with Oakton College and the Illinois Department of Corrections.
It was an emotional commencement ceremony for the 16 graduates and their loved ones at Stateville Correctional Facility in Crest Hill.
“I have no words to describe this, (it’s) from another world. Being where I come from, the things I’ve been through and being here are indescribable,” Broadway graduate Michael Broadway said after the ceremony.
Broadway earned his degree despite several setbacks, including suffering from stage 4 prostate cancer.
“I’m so proud of him,” said his mother, Elizabeth. “I really am. He looks so good in that dress.” Due to ill health, she has not seen Broadway since he was imprisoned in 2005, and during the ceremony the two exchanged tears and hugs to make up for lost time.
The 51-year-old Broadway show is scheduled to premiere in 2084.
If he is released before then, he said he would like to start a non-profit organization focused on youth empowerment.
Professor Jennifer Lackey is the founding director of the programme.
“Twenty years ago, some of these guys were in rival gangs, and here they are, sharing poetry with each other and providing critical input on sociology assignments,” Lackey said. “The love and growth we see in the community is truly unlike anything I have experienced at on-campus graduation ceremonies.”
About 100 students are enrolled in Northwestern’s program through Stateville and Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison.
James Soto, a recent Northwestern University graduate, plans to continue his education at law school.
He hopes this first class of incarcerated students is just the beginning.
“I’m nothing special, there are many like me. I hope they get the chance to be released too so we can showcase the world and maybe really change it.”
(Reporting by Eric Cox, Editing by Josie Kao)