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.

TTEF in 2013: What a Year!

bigpreview_All Years up to 2013The year in review…

TTEF entered 2013 still working out the process of granting college scholarships.  With little more than the determination of three former prisoners, there was much to be done in order to help others in a substantial and sustainable manner.  A year later and we are able to see all that work pay off.

During 2013, we added amazing people to our boards (Mimi Budnick, Cherie Cruz, Prof. Andrew Horwitz, Cris Potter, and Prof. Tina Reynolds), and in the coming year we look forward to implementing fundraising and communications committees.  We have done all this so far by the sweat of our brows, and look forward to having a staff administrator in 2014 or beyond.

We’re asking you to please donate $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can fit into your budget.  You can donate through this page here.    Andres, Noah, and Bruce had no cause for hope when they were locked up.   They weren’t sure anyone cared outside of their immediate circle.  TTEF is changing that sense of isolation; and we want to announce that many community members care about them making that transition up and out of the pit.

Help us raise awareness through the little things:

Our goal is not to promote a scholarship program.  It is to promote a concept: that education is the way to heal and revitalize the desolation caused by crime and by punishment.  A nation full of outcasts is destined to fail, and TTEF knows firsthand that everybody is eligible to be an important piece of a thriving society.

In 2014 we expect to have dozens of worthy applicants along with many calls to expand TTEF outside of Rhode Island.  We can’t help everyone, but with your help we can cast a series of ripples into the world.

TTEF Makes Its First Two Scholarship Awards!!

TTEFAfter less than one year in existence, the Transcending Through Education Foundation (TTEF) is excited to announce their first pair of scholarship winners!  The strong applicant pool revealed how much hard work and accomplishment is happening behind prison walls.  TTEF is extremely impressed by the dedication to education and self-improvement shown by each of these scholars.

One of our scholarship winners is currently at the ACI women’s facility, and will be released in October.  She is a mother of two children and has been accepted to the University of Rhode Island, planning to study Computer Science upon release.  While in prison, she received her Associate’s Degree from CCRI with a 3.76 GPA.

The other recipient is currently at the Medium Security facility in Cranston.  He plans to use his TTEF scholarship towards an online MBA degree from Adams State University while he is still incarcerated.  He received an Associate’s Degree from CCRI and a Bachelor’s Degree from Adams State University while in prison.  He has a stellar academic record and has been very active in encouraging others in prison to pursue their education.

TTEF looks forward to working with these two individuals as they continue their educational journey.  We will assign them a mentor and provide guidance through a series of planned workshops.  TTEF feels confident that these scholars will in turn also help others charting a similar path, as well as work to ward others from entering prison in the first place.

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!

Transcending Through Education is a nonprofit organization, supported by their founders and generous donors.  Please consider giving to TTEF so that 2014 may be even more exciting than 2013!!

Foundation for Prison Scholarships Announces New Board Members

TTEFWe are moving into the final stages of our inaugural scholarship cycle and excited that all of our work is going to pay off for years to come.  Anyone who has worked with a population of imprisoned people will know how challenging it can be to create solid and trustworthy lines of communication, and TTEF is doing this in multiple juvenile, women’s, and men’s facilities.  Ultimately we have forged a strong relationship with the DOC administration, and we are excited to continue this trajectory into a force for education and reentry.

TTEF is also excited to introduce the other members of our team.  Joining Andres Idarraga, Noah Kilroy, and Bruce Reilly on our Board of Directors are Tina Reynolds and Mimi Budnick.  Our Advisory Board includes Andrew Horwitz, Cherie Cruz, and Cris Potter.

This amazing array of talent and diversity can only briefly be touched on below:

Tina Reynolds is a national figure regarding women’s prison issues.  Formerly incarcerated herself, Professor Reynolds gave birth to one of her two sons behind bars.  Years later, she became the mother of a movement to end the shackling of pregnant women in custody.  She also earned her Masters in Social Work, co-founded Women On The Rise Telling Her Story (WORTH) in Harlem, and is a professor at York College.  Professor Reynolds is widely recognized for her advocacy work, including national drug policy and Rhode Island’s own successful elimination of pregnancy shackling.  She is also a founding member of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement.

Mimi Budnick is no stranger to people at the Adult Correctional Institutions and issues around reentry.  Ms. Budnick served for a decade as an organizer for the Behind the Walls committee at Direct Action for Rights & Equality (DARE).  She was a key figure in various community-wide efforts, including the restoration of voting rights, improving prison conditions, and reforming sentencing practices.  The Behind the Walls Committee served as the foundation for reentry among civic-minded people.  Ms. Budnick is now honing in on her Masters in Education at the University of Rhode Island, with a focus on advanced adult education.

Andrew Horwitz is a professor at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island.  Professor Horwitz serves as Director of the Criminal Defense Clinic, in which law students represent indigent criminal defendants in pending misdemeanor cases, and also teaches criminal law and criminal procedure.  He serves on several other Boards of Directors, including Open Doors Rhode Island, City Year Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and he remains active in many other organizations, including Operation Stand Down and the NAACP.  Prior to joining the RWU faculty, Professor Horwitz was a public defender in Brooklyn, NY.

Cherie Cruz is a mother, sibling, and daughter of incarcerated parents.  Ms. Cruz has transcended her own personal and family history of incarceration and conviction to ultimately earn a Master’s in Urban Education Policy from Brown University.  Her main interests and research revolve around the school-to-prison pipeline and police in schools. She currently is the RI System of Care Family/Youth Leadership Coordinator for the Dept. of Children Youth & Families through Parent Support Network.  Ms. Cruz also sits on other various boards: RI ACLU, RI Welcome Back Center, and the RI Executive Committee on Trauma Informed Care. She previously worked as a reentry case manager with Open Doors, which focused on mentorship and education.  Ms. Cruz has provided valuable support for numerous organizations throughout the state.

Cris Potter was born and raised in Providence, RI.  He graduated from Classical High School in 1996, CCRI in 2007, and from East Carolina University in 2012.  Mr. Potter is currently employed asa  data scientist at an internet company in Massachusetts.

These five people have come together to help make higher education a priority within the realm of incarceration and reentry.  Together, and with the help of our future scholars, we will raise the profile of this pathway while reducing the barriers to success.  As we move forward, volunteer opportunities will arise.  We encourage everyone to subscribe to our blog as a way of staying informed, and also to join us on Facebook as a way to share our progress while inspiring others.

We also encourage you to contribute to the foundation.  This work requires a broad base of support not only for our scholarships, but also to spread the message of successful reintegration leads to strong communities.

Ford and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations Among Funders Expanding Access to College For People in Prison and Those Recently Released

The Vera Institute of Justice is pioneering an initiative to expand access to higher education for people in prison and those that have been recently released called the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project.  While many such projects toil in obscurity, Vera is positioned to raise greater awareness towards recognizing that we should encourage the education of all members of society.

The project is active in two states, New Jersey and North Carolina.  The goals of the initiative include an increase in employability and earnings for formerly incarcerated people, reduce recidivism, and improve quality of life in communities impacted by crime and incarceration.  The project hopes to demonstrate that there are cost-effective methods for providing access to postsecondary education to currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.

TTEF is encouraged by this initiative, funded by the Ford Foundation, the Sunshine Lady Foundation (started by Doris Buffet, the sister of Warren Buffet), the Open Society Institute (OSI), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  That these foundations are funding this program signals that expanding educational opportunities to the currently and formerly incarcerated is getting mainstream support from highly-credible institutions..  We hope such recognition convinces others that these efforts make sense from various angles, including individual rehabilitation and community economic development.

For example, the Vera Institute notes that “the difference in median earnings between people with a high school diploma and those with an associate’s degree is $8,261. The difference jumped to $22,884 when researchers included those who had completed a bachelor’s degree.”  Moreover, “postsecondary education has a significant impact on both the frequency and the quality of civic engagement and participation (e.g., voting and volunteering).”

We applaud these efforts and look forward to seeing the implementation of this project in New Jersey and North Carolina.