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.”