From prison to a purpose: Transforming lives with degrees

75% of state’s prison population never finished high school

Study after study is proving the more education inmates receive, the better chances they will succeed when they get out.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – Twenty-Five percent of the world’s total prison population is behind bars in the United States. That’s more than two million men and women convicted of crimes and serving time.

Seventy-five percent of the state’s prison population never finished high school. But study after study is proving the more education inmates receive, the better chances they will succeed when they get out.

“I grew up in a real dysfunctional family. There’s a lot of drug abuse, a lot of abuse. At the age of 21, I was shot by a police officer. I had a seventh-grade education when I went to prison,” Johnny Ward, an ex-felon and now author said.

While in prison, Ward got his GED. Eighteen months later, he had an associate degree in drafting and engineering, followed by a Bachelor’s in behavioral science. And then a Master’s in literature.

“I thought, man, I can do this time two ways. I can use it to strengthen myself and educate myself and come out a better man or I can just squander it because regardless, the time’s going to get done,” Ward said.

“What we see is the more we invest in them educationally the better the long-term outcomes are,” Dean Glenn Sanford of the University of Houston said.

Sanford is part of the program at the University of Houston that’s been helping to educate inmates since 1974.

“This is an example of the students taking tangible steps to take control and to work to better themselves,” Sanford said.

A recent study revealed that for every dollar invested in educating inmates, $5 is saved in re-incarceration costs.

“I’m not aware of anyone at the Master’s level, who’s completed that, who’s gone back,” Sanford said.

“I never was able to just see the bigger world. And so, education just made the world that much bigger,” former inmate Curtis Brucker said.

A world outside of prison, that includes jobs, family, and a chance at living life with a new perspective.

“My habits changed, my vocabulary changed, my confidence changed,” he said.

Over nine in ten state prisons provide educational programs for their inmates. Half of state prison inmates reported they had participated in an educational program. Most are not free programs. At the University of Houston, inmates pay for their education with help from groups like second chance and other organizations.

Right now, Johnny is writing his second book, the awakening. His first book, “Gridlock”, can be found on Amazon. Both are inspirational books for people who want to change the trajectory of their lives, in prison or not.