TTEF Updates as 2015 Enters the Holiday Season


Dear TTEF Supporters,

As 2015 begins to wind down, we write about several items. First, we want to wish you a happy upcoming holiday season. We also write to thank you for all of the support you have given TTEF over the last three years.

Because of those efforts, we have been able to support the higher education efforts of 11 individuals by collectively awarding them almost $10,000 in scholarship and grant money. Due to your support, we have also been able to conduct yearly workshops about applying to college with a criminal record across the facilities at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (“RIDOC”) that have reached hundreds of individuals. Also, for some awardees, we have been able to pair them up with mentors so that they have someone they can reach out to for advice as they navigate their higher education journey.

We have been able to do this despite not having any paid staff—in other words, with all-volunteer officers and board members. Soon, however, TTEF plans to embark on a fundraising campaign to, among other things, be able to hire its first staff member. The staff member will help us coordinate and expand our programming (Rhode Island and into other states) and also help us solidify our funding streams and seek out new ones.

We hope you will consider supporting TTEF, including in any of the following, as we begin our fundraising campaign:

  • Donating to TTEF via its updated website.
  • Simply go to the website and click on the “Support Us” tab at the bottom right have of the screen or on the “donate” tab across the top of the screen.
  • When you click on the “Support Us” tab, besides donating, you will also be able to click on the “Shop to Support” icon which will provide links to your favorite online shopping websites, such as Amazon, Target, and many others. If you access these stores via our website, a small percentage of any purchase you make will be donated to TTEF.

If you are able to support TTEF in any of the above ways, or in any other ways you can think of, we thank you in advance.

We also write to give you two more updates. As noted in a previous blog post, TTEF presented at the National Conference of Higher Education in Prison at the University of Pittsburgh. The conference brought together organizations and individuals from across the country that work to develop and bring higher education opportunities to people in prison. This provided TTEF with a great opportunity to profile its programming to other organizations. TTEF’s presentation was well-received, and we hope to build on the connections we made to further collective efforts to expand higher education programming for people in prison.

Lastly, TTEF will be conducting our yearly workshops at the RIDOC this December.

TTEF will present at the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison

nchep-poster-color-041On Saturday, November 7th, Transcending Through Education Foundation (TTEF) will be presenting at the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, at the Pittsburgh University Cathedral of Learning. The Saturday 4:15 session is part of a dynamic conference from Thursday to Saturday.

TTEF’s panel, “Prison to School Pipeline: How three men got out of prison, earned law degrees and created scholarships for others” is even more than that. It is the first time the three founders will be in the same space since Andres Idarraga graduated from Yale Law School in 2011, before TTEF was created. Since then, they have individually and in pairs done in-prison workshops, mentored scholars, and Andres even provided a powerful Tedx Talk on the subject. Co-Founders Noah Kilroy, Bruce Reilly, and Andres Idarraga are excited to share three years of experience working directly with incarcerated students and prison officials to make their program a success.

“Its not just the services we provide,” says Noah Kilroy. “It’s how we provide them, and who those students are getting the message from. For us, by us. We know how it was, and we know how it feels to struggle just to learn everything you can.” As an attorney who also works on parole hearings and post-conviction petitions, Kilroy receives daily reminders of people striving to turn things around and start fresh.

The Department of Education’s recent announcement that pilot programs will receive Pell Grant funding has encouraged many educators and activists to merge their efforts into restoring educational pathways that have not existed in decades. Such excitement is not confined to the educators. “Money will come and go,” Reilly explains, “but the biggest thing we provide is hope. In prison, hope is a commodity in short supply.” Recently named Deputy Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender, in New Orleans, Reilly is familiar with the myriad obstacles for families on all parts of the criminal justice spectrum.

As the nation re-examines the far-reaching policies of mass incarceration and considers options to rebuild and heal communities, the advancement of education in all corners of society is an essential element to success.

Overcoming Odds, Now Helping Others

Bruce Andres NoahBy Tom Mooney

Originally Posted in The Providence Journal Jul. 25, 2015.

All three men served prison time for serious crimes. All three got out and, against insurmountable odds, graduated from law school. Two are lawyers. And now, convinced of the power of knowledge to change any life, they have formed a nonprofit foundation that provides scholarships for inmates approaching release to pursue higher education.

The Transcending Through Education Foundation was started by former inmates Andres Idarraga, Noah Kilroy and Bruce Reilly. Idarraga served several years in the Adult Correctional Institutions on drug charges. Released in 2004, he earned two degrees from Brown University before earning a law degree from Yale in 2011. He now practices complex litigation at a law firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Kilroy served time for various drug felonies between the ages of 16 and 23 before he was released in 2003 from a Florida prison and devoted his life to learning. He is now a lawyer and an assistant city solicitor in Providence.

Reilly served 12 years at the ACI for second-degree murder. He graduated from Tulane Law School last year and works as a writer and organizer for several social causes, including securing voting rights and employment for former offenders.

“We wanted to give back — or at least reach back — and let people know how they can do this,” said Reilly.

The foundation awards scholarships of up to $1,000 to any accredited institution for individuals who are coming out of prison determined to improve their lives. The foundation also provides mentoring services — primarily through the foundation’s three founders — to help guide ex-convicts through the college experience.

“We are filling an unmet need,” says Kilroy, noting that Congress banned Pell Grant eligibility for ex-convicts in 1994.

Kilroy says criminals should be punished, as he was, for breaking the law. “But if you really want them to stay out of prison, well, let’s make sure they have the tools to do so. In our [three] cases education stopped the criminal behavior.”

“There is a wealth of untapped potential over there” at the Adult Correctional Institutions, says Kilroy. “I wasn’t even the smartest guy in my cell block. And that’s the point here. In each of our stories we would not be where we are now without the help and mentoring we received.”


From Prison to College: Here’s Why Education Matters

TTEFMay 29th is the second #ProofPointDay, an annual celebration to bring visibility and voice to the hundreds of thousands of first-generation college graduates (FGs) in the US — reinforcing what is possible and inspiring the next generation. #ProofPointDay is the fellowship project created by Pahara-Aspen Fellow Chastity Lord.

Andres Idarraga, Noah Kilroy, and Bruce Reilly are all FGs and founders of  Transcending Through Education Foundation (TTEF), which supports the higher education efforts of people in or transitioning out of prison.

Before we all went to college, we went to prison. In that unlikely place, we began our educational journeys. We discussed books while walking the prison yard — sharpening our minds, and in the process, more deeply understanding ourselves. We kept each other accountable to a daily study regime. We paid our last dollar on correspondence college courses, and applied to universities while still behind bars. We left prison and entered college. Today, we all have law degrees.

We founded Transcending Through Education Foundation  (TTEF) with a shared mission to help the countless future FGs behind prison bars.

We know from both statistics and experience that education is the single greatest purveyor of stability for people with conviction histories. Yet, the educational needs and hopes of people in prison have been systemically overlooked.

In 1994, when Congress eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for people in prison, the programs that did exist dwindled to a very few. All this despite the overwhelming evidence that prison education programs work: the recidivism rate for unemployed, non-high school inmates is nearly 50 percent, compared with 17 percent for employed, college program participants. A recent Rand Corporation study also found these programs cost-effective against re-incarceration.

The longstanding effort to restore Pell Grant eligibility has finally taken root as individual education is increasingly recognized for its broader community-building and public safety values. Children in prison have recently regained eligibility, and legislation for a full restoration is pending in Congress.

As FGs, we know the value of an educational lifeline, especially when a person hits rock bottom. We also know the value of role models. Few people in prison have a college education or go on to get one after release. Over 10 years ago, still in prison, Bruce asked Andres if he knew anyone in prison who had gone to college. Andres replied that he knew no one.

TTEF is changing this reality. Since TTEF was founded in 2012, we have awarded nine scholarships and grants in Rhode Island (our home state and where we all served our prison time) to people who are taking college courses while in prison or after they have been released. TTEF plans to replicate its model in more states.

The vast majority of our award winners are first-generation college students. We have conducted workshops for nearly 500 incarcerated individuals in every prison facility throughout Rhode Island. TTEF’s workshops take on the very issues that we found ourselves navigating alone, without a blueprint or role model: applying to college and for financial aid with a criminal conviction, managing personal finances, and dealing with the stigma of being a formerly incarcerated FG, to name a few.

This July marks TTEF’s third scholarship cycle. Like TTEF’s founders, our award winners will face challenges. In general, more than a quarter of low-income first-generation college students leave after their first year in college and close to 90 percent fail to graduate within six years. Our awardees will face additional hurdles.

Whether you are a FG, future FG, or an FG ally, we encourage you to be visible and vocal on May 29th by visiting and wearing green.

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.