Incarcerated Students Encouraged to Apply for TTEF’s College Scholarship

TTEFThe spring season is an important time for college applicants, with essays to be written and due dates arising. This flurry is no different for incarcerated students. The Transcending Through Education Foundation (“TTEF”) is pleased to announce the opening of their third scholarship application window, and excited to discover more students seeking assistance in pursuit of higher education, whether they live behind prison walls or are on the journey back to society.

Higher education is the most effective manner to ensure someone finds promising opportunities following a conviction. The federal government recently clarified that the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated people does not apply to over 60,000 people in juvenile facilities. The Department of Education believes this may offer support to roughly 4,000 young people with a GED or high school diploma. This clarification was part of the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice’s Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings. The government is showing collaborative leadership from its Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which can and should be modeled on the state level.

A new report by The Center for Community Alternatives, Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition, explains just how challenging it is for people with criminal histories to access higher education. These challenges often deter people from even reaching a point where a committee determines their eligibility. As a recent article explains, even when universities in the New York state system try not to discriminate, applicants feel otherwise.

In California, the James Irvine Foundation has recognized the important contribution of the Prison University Project (PUP), providing executive director Jody Lewen with a 2015 Leadership Award. The recognition comes with $200,000 to support the work of providing college education from established universities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The work of PUP, the Bard College Initiative, and others serve as role models for TTEF.

TTEF began as a bold idea of three formerly incarcerated men who wanted to give back by providing college scholarships and mentorships to people in prison or transitioning out of prison. Andres Idarraga, Noah Kilroy, and Bruce Reilly pooled their resources to do so, and created workshops based on their experiences applying to college. Dozens of their colleagues have provided further resources, and the Foundation is poised to take another leap forward by creating a full-time staff position and increasing its reach.

Over the past year, TTEF has expanded its board, supported additional scholars, given multiple workshops, and Andres presented a compelling Tedx presentation. Most importantly, TTEF serves as a touchstone for many on, or trying to join, a pathway to a productive life.

To learn more about TTEF and to support the furtherance of higher education, read more on our blog, here, and go to

Please also consider supporing TTEF by clicking here and making a donation.

Federal Government Offers Education Guidance for Incarcerated Children

a_eduALEXANDRIA, Va. – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a Correctional Education Guidance Package aimed at helping states and local agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to America’s estimated 60,000 young people in confinement every day.

This guidance package builds on recommendations in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force reportreleased in May to “reform the juvenile and criminal justice systems to reduce unnecessary interactions for youth and to enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education.” Today’s guidance package is a roadmap that states and local agencies can use to improve the quality of educational services for confined youth.

“Students in juvenile justice facilities need a world-class education and rigorous coursework to help them successfully transition out of facilities and back into the classroom or the workforce becoming productive members of society. Young people should not fall off-track for life just because they come into contact with the justice system,” Duncan said.

“In this great country, all children deserve equal access to a high-quality public education – and this is no less true for children in the juvenile justice system,” said Attorney General Holder.  “At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to ensure that every young person who’s involved in the system retains access to the quality education they need to rebuild their lives and reclaim their futures. We hope and expect this guidance will offer a roadmap for enhancing these young people’s academic and social skills, and reducing the likelihood of recidivism.”

“Today’s announcement directly responds to the call to action made by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative. It is imperative that we ensure that incarcerated youth are receiving a quality education and provide them with the necessary tools for a second chance. I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary Arne Duncan for highlighting this critical issue,” said Broderick Johnson, White House Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force.

The guidance package includes four components:

“High-quality correctional education is thus one of the most effective crime-prevention tools we have,” Duncan and Holder wrote in a dear colleague letter to chief state school officers and state attorneys general. “High-quality correctional education – including postsecondary correctional education, which can be supported by Federal Pell Grants – has been shown to measurably reduce re-incarceration rates. Less crime means not only lower prison costs – it also means safer communities.”

The President has set a goal that, by 2020, our nation will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world and that all Americans complete at least one year or more of college or career training. The Administration believes that even youth in correctional facilities can play their part in helping us achieve that vision.

For young people who are incarcerated, access to a high-quality education during their confinement is a vitally important and cost-effective strategy for ensuring they become productive members of their communities. The average cost to confine a juvenile is $88,000 per year – and a recent study showed that about 55 percent of youth were rearrested within 12 months of release. Inmates of all ages are half as likely to go back to jail if they participate in higher education – even compared to inmates with similar histories.

This joint effort by the departments of Education and Justice is one of a number of notable actions that they have taken to ensure that education programming in juvenile justice residential facilities is comparable to services provided in any school. The departments have been working together to help communities reduce the number of youth entering the justice system and to ensure that those in the system return to their communities with dignity, skills and viable education and employment opportunities including the following efforts this year:

  • Education and Justice jointly released a School Climate and Discipline Guidance Package to provide schools with a roadmap to reduce the usage of exclusionary discipline practice and clarify schools’ civil rights obligation to not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the administration of school discipline.
  • Education released the results of the 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection, which includes school discipline data from most every school in the country and certain juvenile justice facilities.
  • Education and Justice filed a joint Statement of Interest in the G.F. v. Contra Costa County lawsuit in support of confined youth with disabilities who alleged that they were placed in solitary confinement for 22 hours or more per day, discriminated against on the basis of their disability, and denied their right to a free, appropriate public education.
  • Duncan and Holder met with leaders from 22 agencies for a Federal Interagency Reentry Council meeting to discuss actions to reduce reentry barriers to employment, health, housing, and education for individuals who are transitioning from incarceration to community.
  • Education and Justice engaged with various philanthropies to commission a School Discipline Consensus Project, led by the Council of State Governments, to bring together practitioners from the fields of education, juvenile justice, behavioral health, and law enforcement, to develop recommendations to address the school-to-prison pipeline, including recommendations for strengthening services to youth in confinement.
  • Education and Justice coordinated and supported the National Leadership Summit on School Climate and Discipline in Washington, D.C. The summit focused on deepening partnerships between local and state education and justice officials and community stakeholders.

All youth are deserving of an appropriate, high-quality education. This guidance package clarifies that obligation for confined youth, as well as advocating that they have a real chance at a second chance in their lives. A solid education that unleashes and expands their potential to contribute to their communities is a step in the right direction.

Math in Prison: It’s all about Time

“The world of mathematics exists in an eternal present, a state in which neither the past nor the future have any meaning” -Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

greek-mult-2In prison, time is everything.  Prisoners obsess over it, and are as much imprisoned by time as by the physical structures that make up the prisons.  This becomes apparent when you talk to incarcerated people. They become experts in measuring things using units of time. I’ve heard people tell me the number of seconds that they spent living within the bricks, cement, steel and stones that make up the prison.

The simplest measurement breaks all of time into three parts: the past, the present, and the future. We only exist in the present, but we are often judged by our pasts when charting our futures. For some people, their past is an asset–this is why we have resumes. To others, especially those that have spent part of their pasts in prison, the past is a burden. The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (“RIDOC”) provides educational opportunities to inmates “to help them become productive and law-abiding members of the community.” The theory is that a past that contains an education can transcend a past that contains some criminality. The TTEF Founders are a testament that this strategy works. What we do in our present becomes our past and helps dictate our future.

I’d like to see an expansion in the mathematics offerings at the RIDOC, particularly because the current demand for math skills in our economy is so high. The main ingredient to the successful study of mathematics is time. Dr. Jean Marie Linhart of Texas Tech University compared math to running–just like you have to train your body to run 10 miles, you have to train your mind to do “10 miles worth” of math. Mathematics requires practice and contemplation–both of which take time. The past provides us with examples of mathematicians making great discoveries while in prison. Jakow Trachtenberg developed his system for calculation while imprisoned by the Nazis. During WWII, Andre Weil was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector to war and attempting to flee conscription. During his imprisonment, he wrote letters to his sister, one of which became the basis of some of his fundamental work in algebraic geometry. Currently, math skills are in high demand, and the future outlook for mathematicians is very bright. Technical fields may be an area where criminal histories are more easily overcome since these fields are often more concerned with your skills and proficiencies than with the scarlet branding of a criminal history.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once wrote: “the world of mathematics exists in an eternal present, a state in which neither the past nor the future have any meaning.” It is perhaps paradoxical that something that requires so much time to master can actually free someone from the prison of time. Expanding the mathematics offerings in prison will provide a constructive way to fill up the present, and expand the opportunities available to the students upon release. The study of mathematics provides broad and transferable skills. It’s a skill set that is applicable in a wide range of industries and would allow a formerly incarcerated person to find a career that is more interested in the present than in their past.

Cris Potter is an advisory board of TTEF.  He is also a volunteer Math instructor at the RIDOC.

TTEF Awards College Scholarships and Grants to Incarcerated Students

TTEFWe are happy to announce our latest college scholarship and grant winners!

We thank our supporters for helping to fund these impressive educational journeys!  This year we had an increase in applications, thus making our decisions extremely difficult.

We awarded two scholarships, one renewal scholarship, and five smaller grants this year.  One scholar is a woman recently released from prison who will continue her education at the Community College of Rhode Island.  She ultimately plans to become a counselor for adolescents.  The other scholar is soon to be released, and after already earning his Associate’s Degree he now plans to study Computer Science at a four-year college.  One renewal scholarship went to a previous scholar who continues along his path to a Master’s Degree while still incarcerated.

We are fortunate this year to also award smaller grants to people taking exams for college credits.  Five grantees now have funding to take three of these exams.

TTEF looks forward to working with these students as they continue their educational path.  TTEF was founded to provide educational resources and support to people in prison, or transitioning out of prison, who are pursuing higher education.  We hope to turn the School-to-Prison pipeline into a Prison-to-School pipeline.  We congratulate everyone who has made or is making this positive change, whether you are working on your first college credit or are finishing your degree!

Keep up with us via our blog and Facebook.  And please consider making a donation through our website.  We thank you in advance!

TTEF Founders Third, and Final, Post-Prison Law Degree


Andres Idarraga, Bruce Reilly, and Norris Henderson.

What an amazing year to be part of the Class of 2014.   In Seattle, Shon Hopwood graduated from the University of Washington School of Law. In Miami, Desmond Meade graduated from Florida International University College of Law. In New York, Marty Tankleff graduated from Touro Law Center.   Their achievements help me put my own degree from Tulane University Law School in perspective. We collectively represent over forty-two years in prison, in cages to be more accurate, and now hold certification that we “officially” understand the fundamentals of the American legal system.

We aren’t the first people to go from being subjected to the law to ultimately navigate its corridors. The list is long and varied, every one unique, and each showing the diverse paths into (and out of) the most miserable space one could be stuck inside. These people, all public with their pasts, include Dan Manville (Antioch ’81), Chris Ochoa (U. Wisconsin ’06), Daryl Atkinson (St. Thomas ’07), TTEF Founder Andres Idarraga (Yale, ’11), TTEF Founder Noah Kilroy (Roger Williams, ’13), and soon to include Jarrett Adams (Loyola-Chicago, ’15) and Pete Martell (Wayne State ’16).  Some were proven innocent (Tankleff, Ochoa, Adams), but for much of their lives they were not treated as such. Many of us were practicing law while in prison as Jailhouse Lawyers, which is why I say we “officially” joined the ranks of those with a Juris Doctorate degree. I filed my first bail motion and memorandum when some of my classmates were in kindergarten and have over two decades of experience covering all aspects of the courts and prisons.

A guy in prison once told me that after I got out and made my millions of dollars, I would forget all about the past and people like him. After graduating last weekend, the guy’s point about staying grounded and not losing touch is as important as ever. Of course, I need not try hard to be reminded about who I am and where I come from. My life is overwhelmingly intertwined with the criminal justice system, and the people struggling to create healthier responses to social ills. We can’t cage everyone without a home or a job, we can’t lock up addiction, nor will a military-grade police force stop anger, greed, depression, and insanity.

Last week, I was reviewing scholarship applications for Transcending Through Education Foundation (TTEF). All of the applicants are currently incarcerated, and over half of them are teenagers trying to get some funding for a college education. One essay that truly left an impact upon me spoke about the success of getting rid of every “friend.” In his environment, all his peers were forging a negative path and success was to be entirely alone. Tragic, yet real.  I want to share with him there are more levels for him to achieve.

We need to empty the container, wash it out, and refill with something pure. Prison can serve this purpose and, as they say: “you know who your friends are when you go to prison.” Friends have been essential to my journey, including those from before, during, and after prison. Who can imagine writing someone for over a decade with no guarantee to ever see each other in the free world again? Who is bold and hopeful enough to talk about college educations, business proposals, and families from cage to cage? Who is strong enough to stand by you when their loved ones are begging them to stay away? Friends are.

People who have been in prison face all sorts of hurdles, regardless of whether they are “deserved” or not.  I applied to over thirty law schools.  One Dean of Admissions met me at a forum in New York City: Susan Krinsky.  She was the only person willing to put her neck on the line and admit me.  Every other school declined.  As the negative media would later play out, about a “convicted murderer in law school,” her courage should never be forgotten.  The vaunted NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDF), founded by none other than Thurgood Marshall, also made a decision to accept me into their family, and that too has been an honor.  Similarly, two professors at Tulane (Jancy Hoeffel and Katherine Mattes) helped me through those early months of adversity along with dozens of amazing new friends who were also just trying to focus on their homework.  And ultimately, being part of an organization, Voice of the Ex-Offender, (VOTE) was crucial to my keeping my footing when people try their damnedest to dislodge me.  We need each other, whether you have been in prison or not.


Artwork by Steven Parkhurst.

I was at Andres Idarraga’s graduations from both Brown and Yale. Many states have rules barring parolees and probationers from interacting with any convicted felon. I gave him framed artwork from an incarcerated friend, Steven Parkhurst, who is also one of TTEF’s inaugural scholars. Last week, when I walked the aisle with my daughter, it would have been incomplete if Andres were not there, along with two other men exonerated in Louisiana, Norris Henderson and Calvin Duncan. When Andres gave me a picture Steve made for me, the tears started to flow. The journey can be overwhelming at times- both the pain and the joy of it all.

Recently, an artist remarked how he was afraid that by me going to law school, the social justice community would lose me into the corporate morass of money-making lawyers. It surprised me that anyone would think this way. As Glenn Martin, another formerly incarcerated man, once told me: ‘Success isn’t when everyone gets out of prison and becomes a full-time advocate against the current criminal justice system. We need to be successful across the entire spectrum of society.’ To a certain degree, we possibly already are; but that’s because most people aren’t “Out” in their daily lives.

I am the last of the three TTEF founders to earn a law degree: Andres in 2011 and Noah in 2013. We all came to this path from a different route and perspective. It is interesting to consider we have different ethnic backgrounds, served different stretches of time in prison, and for different crimes. Our friendship, along with others who were incarcerated with us, serves to ground and guide our paths. My twenty years of legal advocacy started with a bail motion for another prisoner and extends to all aspects of policy change across the country. This part of my work will remain whether I open a café, launch a film production company, or work for a non-profit.

In the words of Tyler Durdin, “We are not our jobs.” Our work may provide us with an opportunity to do good things, whether on the job or while off duty. Or we may need to take some stepping stones—especially for those of us not sitting on a family fortune or a vast network prepared to support an endeavor. If Jay-Z calls tomorrow and says I need you to negotiate sneaker deals for his new NBA players, that would be a gateway not a finish line. Besides, I can use a new pair of sneakers myself.

Despite the headlines, only a small part of the legal realm is criminal law. I never wanted to be a criminal defense attorney (I know plenty of great ones) and there wasn’t much more for me to learn in that area. I concentrated my studies on intellectual property (copyright, patent, and trademark) and the Internet. The future of our legal system might actually  be summarized by Monsanto, Net Neutrality and Edward Snowden, as we struggle to determine who and what is under control. My contributions are likely to come with projects I do in my spare time, as we are in an age of hostility towards controversial people in academia. This has been the pattern of my entire life, as I have generally paid my bills with jobs outside the legal/policy realm.

I’m sure Shon, Desmond, and Marty get hit with the same question I get: “So what’s next?” I’m guessing they have better answers than myself. Shon is a published author with some highly esteemed supporters. Desmond has been a leading figure in the Florida re-enfranchisement campaign and found considerable support for his inspiring journey. Marty now has no criminal record and is a member of the Innocence Project network. Some of us, however, have histories that are more challenging to digest.  Those who only hear about the successes are simply not privy to all the rejections, and to those who simply ignore us.

This is not the year for me to try taking the Bar and being a licensed attorney, for reasonsI have previously written. Those who push me do not realize that it is the one aspect of my life where I am forced to be pessimistic, particularly as I am still on felony probation. That status alone would likely suspend someone’s law license until it were finished, therefore it is difficult to imagine even the most forgiving panel finding me morally fit to practice law. Those who know me will realize that I’ve only made it this far due to an undaunted diet of hope and optimism, and I would rather dream about other things.  I still can’t vote in Louisiana and there are many jobs I’m legally barred from holding, but I’m used to a low percentage of success.  People like us just have to try more doors and spend more time doing it.

I am currently working on a book about the criminal justice system and a screenplay about wrongful convictions in New Orleans. I’m open to part-time and project work, and would like to get myself “artsy” again. I can’t speak for Shon, Desmond, and Marty but the conversation need not always be about “What’s Next” in life.  Sometimes we need to pause and recognize what we just did.  Who’da thunk it?

A Scholar’s Update From Inside

TTEFAs TTEF’s second scholarship application window comes to a close, we are privileged to share an update from one of our 2013-14 scholars:

Thanks again to TTEF for all their support.  After a semester into the MBA program at Adams State University, I’ve already been able to see how social justice and social change can impact business practices.  My first research paper, entitled “Work Release,” is about the nearly 700,000 men and women in the U.S. being released from prison every year and the challenges they face in finding employment.  Ex-offenders and human resource managers all must deal with issues such as “Ban the Box” (eliminating discrimination on job applications), work opportunity tax credits, and growing support for prisoner reentry programs.

In terms of progress on my community-building activities, I remain the inmate college advisor within the prison.  During the Fall semester I helped register and enroll over 200 inmates into the Community College of Rhode Island.  I am a passionate advocate for prison educational opportunities.

In October I created “Real Voices From Behind the Fence,” a collection of inmate stories that was sent to a youth program at New Urban Arts.  This community center in Providence mentors at-risk youth using accomplished local artist mentors.  My goal is to further develop this experimental initiative using voices of the incarcerated.

Within the prison, since September, I became a classroom advisor for the Youth Nonviolence program.  Sponsored by the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, this program teaches nonviolent principles developed and practiced by Gandhi and King.  The program focuses on inmates aged 18-26 years old.  My goal is to become a certified nonviolence instructor.

In addition to the TTEF scholarship, I also received a Davis-Putter scholarship; it is one of the few scholarship programs that support incarcerated people.  They seek out those leading and providing service for their communities, and clearly prison is no less a community than anywhere else.  Combined, the two organizations allowed me to enroll in three classes in the MBA program.

The achievement for which I am most proud is raising and training “Rescue,” a service dog placed with a Boston Marathon bombing survivor.  I raise and train these dogs for NEADS, a Massachusetts nonprofit.  The Prison-Pup partnership between Rhode Island Department of Corrections and NEADS is the first of its kind to give back to victims of crimes.  In November, Jessica Kensky and her husband Patrick visited me in prison to thank me for what they called the greatest gift since the tragic day of the bombing.  This is a true example of social change: incarcerated people working to give back to the community.

My goal remains to complete the MBA in 3-4 years and eventually create a business that trains and employs former felons.  It is my intention to re-apply for financial support and also continue seeking more opportunities from elsewhere.  After six courses, I may even be eligible for an Adams State scholarship and also to complete the MBA online (with DOC permission).

I wish to thank everyone at TTEF, the founders, the Board, volunteers, and donors.  It not only helps the scholars, it also provides a roadmap of possibilities for all of us.  I will continue to work tirelessly for prison educational opportunities, juvenile justice reform, and every kind of prisoner reentry program.



Steven Parkhurst

Like Steven, we appreciate the collective effort that has led to the steady growth of the foundation.  Consider donating to our nonprofit foundation by clicking this link.

TTEF Encourages Others to Follow Gov. Cuomo’s Lead on Higher Ed

CuomoThe state of New York has recently taken a significant step to improve public safety and build strong communities by investing in education throughout its prison system.  After decades of research has proven the obvious impacts of education upon recidivism rates, Governor Cuomo has shown the resolve to spend money in a cost-effective manner that allows people to improve their possibilities after release.

“Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more,” said Governor Cuomo. “New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending up back behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results. Someone who leaves prison with a college degree has a real shot at a second lease on life because their education gives them the opportunity to get a job and avoid falling back into a cycle of crime.”

Transcending Through Education Foundation is a member of the strong coalition (Education From The Inside Out Coalition) pushing to restore educational funding to the New York state prison system.  As one of the largest and most influential state prisons, changes in New York carry the potential to set a new standard throughout the nation; something they did do, unfortunately, by passing the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws.

TTEF provides scholarships for people in prison, and those recently transitioning out.  Unfortunately, this is one of the few funding sources available to most people.  One of our scholars, for example, would need to save his entire prison paycheck for a full year to afford a single class.  He is pursuing a masters degree through correspondence courses.

In TTEF’s home state of Rhode Island, we have the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, the Community College of Rhode Island, Providence College, Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Johnson & Wales University, Roger Williams University, and Salve Regina University.  There is an incredible opportunity to bring their collective educational expertise, and resources, to the same table.  If each offered just one class, and one professor, per semester a true degree program could exist.

Meanwhile, the RI Department of Corrections budget of $210 million provides $10 million for “institutionally based rehabilitation and population management” for approximately 3200 incarcerated men, women, and children. Granted, 83% of the DOC budget goes towards payroll, leaving relatively little to spread around for security measures, health care and education.  However, it is clear that the best dollar spent will be on higher education.

The DOC purchased $284,000 in “University and College Services,” last year.  This is a tenth of 1% of the overall budget (just 3% of the education and vocation services budget).  TTEF is striving to make education more accessible and universal for those people working hard to change their lives.

The Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections budget for Fiscal Year 2015 can be viewed at: