In order for the nation to increase college access and success for all students, we know that education must occur in a variety of environments, Sing Sing prison included. Our group of college leaders, non-profit, government and corrections officials gathered for a strategic partners meeting to discuss expanding support for prison education programs and to see the work up close.

I started the day struck by stark contrasts — the daunting high walls and barbwire fencing overlooking the calm, picturesque waters of the Hudson River — the setting for an impassioned conversation about the value of education with a group of incarcerated college students. The students we met are enrolled in the Hudson Link educational program but as visitors that day, we were the ones going to school.

“When you come up with nothing, you wind up in jail or dead. We wound up in jail.”

“College changed my life. It gave me an identity in a place where you quickly can become a voiceless number,” said one graduate. Another student, Jon-Adrian, talked about one of his favorite classes, criminology and the application of rational choice theory, helping him understand choices and consequences. Also in our visitor group, Alexandria, a former incarcerated female silenced the room saying, “There were a lot of things I wanted to pass on to my daughter, but being incarcerated wasn’t one of them.” Now pursuing a Ph.D., she enrolled in college to “pass on something positive.”