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Photo courtesy of Eric, incarcerated in California

The public’s perception of inmates is changing thanks to the focus on higher education for California prisoners. In an attempt to rehabilitate, reduce recidivism and change the mindset of society, Bakersfield College is impacting the Central Valley with a sense of purpose and a vision: People with a higher education will be less likely to commit crime or to reoffend after parole.

Not only is Bakersfield College getting attention throughout the Central Valley and the state of California, it has also gotten the attention of the inmates.

Chelsea, an enthusiastic woman who heads the college’s prison education program, believes education is the key to rehabilitating California’s prison population. Chelsea is witty, has grit, and her stories get an effective response. She has motivated inmates like myself to embrace that vision and communicate it to others.

California State Prison, Corcoran (COR) has a notorious reputation: Charles Manson lived here. So being a part of the first class offered on the level IV general population Yard was, at best, challenging. Nevertheless, the first day was memorable.

The professor, an older white gentleman named Mr. Dupree entered the classroom.

“You might be in prison, but when I walk into the class, you are now on the Bakersfield Campus,” he said. “There are no free rides here. I expect as much out of you as I would any of my other students.”

I wondered, “Does this guy know he’s on a Level IV prison yard?” But, he earned the respect of that whole class with those first few words.

Three semesters later, and almost halfway through an associate of arts degree in communications, my outlook has broadened dramatically. Bakersfield College and its staff care, and it shows in their willingness to come into the prison and educate. They’re the real heroes, standing out here on the frontline. Their determination is what men in prison will recognize. Their grit and hard work will achieve the intended result.

Serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole may seem hopeless. Nonetheless, my belief in God, my family and having people who believe in change at my side, have turned my life around.

The majority of my life has revolved around gangs, drugs, and the inside of a jail cell. During my prison confinement, many years were spent in solitary housing. Earning a college degree was the furthest thing from my mind.

Education appears to be a solution in the fight for rehabilitation. This is true not only in California, but throughout the U.S.

In my opinion, allowing inmates to receive a college education is like giving us a second chance. Achieving a high GPA and excelling at the college level have given me a new sense of purpose. If I’m ever given the opportunity, I’d like to take what I’ve learned and apply it in the community.

A lot of kids are growing up the same way I did. They need better role models. They need to be told that “school is cool” and be encouraged to go to college.

Change is possible. For people like me, it begins right here: behind the wall.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Eric is a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Corcoran Press Newsletter. He is currently working on a book about gang prevention and solitary confinement, as well as a screenplay. Eric is incarcerated in California and asks that his last name be withheld.