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2015 Results Newsletter

College Behind Bars

One woman’s transformation from inmate to intellectual


NEW START: Jennell Nesbitt giving her graduation speech at an upstate correctional facility. This essay is adapted from the speech. Photo by China Jorrin

I was incarcerated for 11 years. At first, I had a hard time adjusting to prison rules, so I spent a lot of time in solitary. Pretty soon I had an epiphany: I would capitalize on my jail time.

First I got my GED. Then, after I was transferred to Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan, I saw a notice: “Bard College sign-up.”

I was stunned when they admitted me. Each semester, I challenged myself more than the last. I was close to finishing my associate’s degree when superstorm Sandy hit. Because Bayview is close to the water, we were split up and evacuated. I ended up in a correctional facility upstate in Beacon. The Bard students were depressed. We spent our time cleaning up cigarette butts. Thankfully, Bard professors arrived after a month. We improvised and finished the semester. I was released four months ago. Tonight, I’m receiving my degree!

Now, I’m training with Con Edison. I am also an intern with Tribeca Film Institute. Getting my degree on the inside helped reshape my life on the outside. Next, I plan to earn my bachelor’s. Knowledge is key!

The Trust’s support for Bard Prison Initiative helped Nesbitt and dozens of other incarcerated women take college courses, earn associate’s degrees, and transition to life outside. The program runs in six prisons across the State, and has enrolled 300 full-time students.

Next Story: More Room to Move

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