The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), a privately funded college baccalaureate program that started in 1999, now provides college education to more than 300 students in six locations within the New York state prison system, reports NPR. Last year, in addition to education, BPI started a pilot program to pair graduates with employers to give them yearlong professional internships. “We simply look for employers who will treat our alumni like they would anyone else,” says Max Kenner, BPI’s founder.
These students are not like everyone else in many respects. That is clear the moment you try to enter the classrooms at the maximum security Eastern Correctional Facility in Napanoch, N.Y, where BPI runs one of its biggest programs. Getting there means passing through security, two checkpoints and four rolling steel cage doors. Professor Delia Mellis teaches a modern U.S. history class. Eighteen men dressed in green jumpsuits are discussing sexual identity politics. The syllabus, requirements and professors are no different than they are at Bard College’s main campus, 30 miles away. Glenn Rodriguez, who is serving a term for murder, is a social studies major in his senior year. An avid reader, he says he still refers back to his notes on cultural anthropology. “We kind of dealt with the notion of ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. … It shows you how we have a tendency to kind of see people as ‘other,’ ” he says, a frame of mind that helped him put his own troubled childhood in context.