What Now!?
An invitation. Imagine and then celebrate. Fellow Warriors on Campus

drawing of a wooden art mannequin
drawing by Darcy Williams

Imagine with me. You are going to a club on Friday night. You’re on top of the world. After a few drinks, you narrow your focus to the interesting person in front of you. You try to forget the world.

The next thing you know you are handcuffed, then, you must change clothes into a funny outfit.
What now?

Your sobriety answers this very easily by morning. You’re locked up. Only one way out. Through this.

There is a trial, everything unfolds. Your date was killed in the car accident. You are the murderer. You must plead guilty to accidental manslaughter. You’re sentenced to 10 years in Prison.
What now?

Five years go by.

One Friday afternoon a formerly incarcerated guy comes from the outside to speak to everyone inside. He says he is going to college and he says you can too, before getting out of prison. All you have to do is apply and be accepted.

He reads the mission statement of the program from the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison.

“We envision a world in which all people, including those in prison, have access to quality higher education, creating a more just and equitable world.

We believe in the unequivocal value of every person and their right to be treated equitably, without labels or stigmas.’s

We support the expansion of quality higher education in prison, empower students while in prison and after release, and shape public discussion about education and incarceration.”

You go back to your cell after the presentation. You don’t feel like you’re “college” material. So, you forget about Alliance/HEP.

Five more years go by. Then. You receive release papers. You have to give an address for release. You choose a halfway house option as you have no home to go to. You get out.
You’re broke, and no one will give you a job. Any job you get has to allow time off for parole –but you’re afraid to tell them you’re on parole. Many of the jobs you have applied to say no thank you when you were honest.
What now?

Finally, after months of eating and living at the halfway house, you find a job. It’s nothing you want to brag about but, you’re exhilarated. You save for 4 months. You apply for apartments. You have been given a “no” at every apartment you apply to. After 9 months, your one year mark to stay at the halfway house is approaching. You work full-time every day. You stay out of any trouble, keep to yourself. After 3 dozen applications someone finally gives you a room that you share with someone else.

You have a kitchen. You relearn how to make cookies. The smell makes you cry.
You have an address. You send yourself a letter–in pure exhilaration.

You check boxes. You fight. You stay free. Even though your actions for nearly 11 years have shown you are determined not to do anything stupid ever again. Day to day, you work- and you fight to stay on top of the requirements to stay “free”. You must have spotless parole for five years. You have 4 more years of weekly check-ins where you cannot miss.

The parole check-in is weekly and three miles away by bus. Your bus is always late, so you go to the bus stop an hour early because you have to ensure that you don’t miss your appointment, which would result in “a warrant to be issued for your arrest, –or you could be ordered to report to jail by your parole officer. [In Oregon] you are no longer entitled to court-appointed counsel, once you are placed into custody with a parole violation.”

What now?
One day, a piece of mail you receive warms your heart–and changes everything.

A flier. With a familiar title.
Higher Education in Prison (HEP) program….Info night…..Free Pizza.

You look into the sky and think to yourself, “Maybe an education would be the answer to the persistent question: “What now? ” You meet a Rebound Peer Specialist and fill out an application.

After 2 weeks, you’ve been accepted to Portland State University. You literally cry. You can’t believe it. You’re going to college!

Books start coming in the mail. You start reading. After 6 more weeks, you are standing on a University Campus. You stand there. No one notices you or thinks you don’t belong. Even with your face tattoo. It’s a feeling you can’t even describe.

At the HEP program office you were handed a welcome bag. When you get into the bus, you open it. Inside there is a letter from another student at PSU who heard about the program. In handwriting they tell you– “you belong here.” This time, you can’t even cry, you’re so happy. Then you find the chapstick, water bottles, granola bars, school supplies, suntan lotion and a hand knit computer case.

As you watch the trees go by, a feeling of hope begins to overwhelm you. Finally, you don’t have to ask, “what now?” It’s clear what to do now.
Take the most amazing opportunity you’ve ever been given and change your life..because. You belong.

“How do [humans] conceive of their security, what do they consider prestige, how do they figure out the means of domination, or what is the notion of self which they wish to realize? The very fact that [humans] theorize at all is proof that..their interior representations of the world, are a determining element in thought, feeling, and action.” ~ Walter Lippman, a journalist/philosopher who coined the term stereotype.

FICTION TO FACT | This narrative vignette above is fiction but has been based on a myriad of true accounts heard from real lived experiences of individuals in Portland whose lives are changing because of PSU Rebound. Now, let me tell you about the exciting reality of this program.

WARRIORS | Just like the vignette, in real life, student warriors are balancing mandatory check-ins, full time jobs, school, a dedication to try to rebuild relationships with their children or families, and often an ongoing lack of basic resources … think toothbrush funds. The moniker, “warrior” is an honorary description used by the PSU Rebound director who supports the students. First hand accounts of many advocates of Rebound become powerful stories, whether heard from the mouth of the students or their advocates. These stories of victory answer why many students in the program deserve to be described as warriors. The director shared that “every one of the students has a warrior story in some way, you can’t listen to it without your heart breaking and you can’t listen to it without doing everything you can do.” of struggle turn to victory with a multiplying effect as ceaseless passion and energy pour from newly-graced long-sought hope. Warriors of all genders are attending college at PSU due to the PSU Rebound opportunity. With understanding, supportive staff working to ensure seamless adoption of the Rebound program, a movement of solidarity is spreading on campus. This movement deserves every respect for its positive momentum.

REBOUND INTRO | To learn about this program, I spoke with the coordinator, Sam Wilson, of PSU Rebound. This is the Re-entry component of PSU’s Higher Education in Prison Program (HEP). Founded in 2019 by a local Portland advocate, it is an offchute of a 50 year old model started at San Francisco State HEP. There is a national landscape (movement) “thriving” in this nationally life-changing idea of Higher Education in Prison.

REBOUND NATION | On a national scale, PSU Rebound students and advocates recently attended a national conference, hosted by the Alliance for Higher Ed in Prison. Portland’s local HEP and Rebound advocacy crew, together with Rebound students join hundreds of other like minded leaders and students across the country to learn about new legislation, collaborate and share achievements, and to motivate and seed a future-now cultural movement that maintains the rights of ALL to receive an education.

REBOUND LOCAL | On a local scale, attention is gathering. Some students have been able to testify at the Senate Education Committee, at hearings for permeable licensing, and on PBS.

REBOUND on CAMPUS | At the campus level, formerly incarcerated students are directly supported by PSU Rebound volunteers and staff who wear dozens of hats every day to assist PSU Rebound students to be successful. Advocates, like the director, work tirelessly to promote success as students get support, including but not limited to: library database training, Google Workspace training, Scholarship training, how to apply through the basic needs hub, guidance on entrance to resources like the SSWC for student parents, SHAC, food pantry, as well as providing any trauma informed emotional support. As a team dedicated to getting degrees for ALL incarcerated, this program is a gem of motivation for formerly incarcerated individuals,, like your imagined self in the vignette, who might not have ever thought they were “college” material.

What CAN I DO now?

Gain your Solidarity
L E A R N | In many democratic or socialist countries, serving time is all that is required socially and legally to rejoin society with a second chance. The “never-ending nightmare” and stigmatization upon release is unique to the US in comparison to these countries, like Sweden.

Show your Solidarity
V I S I T | All Rebound students have a hub in the University Studies office where they are guaranteed to receive generous smiles and mentorship. It is also promised that if any PSU student or staff member walks in to say hello, they will receive the most warm welcome from the most fun clan on campus. According to the coordinator of PSU Rebound, this is the way to show your solidarity for the movement. How indescribably encouraging, right? You’ve already imagined being a formerly incarcerated student. So, now, no matter who you are, you can much easier imagine showing your solidarity–and do so. By positive expression alone, you join the Rebound Solidarity Movement. By being supportive when you speak and act, you too plant a seed in the support of ALL passionate scholars’ education. Completing a sentence with decisive determination to join society as an educated individual while also juggling life,parole and other challenges should be rewarded, not punished further. There are no longer physical bars in the lives of the formerly incarcerated, so let’s erase the bars from our minds.

V O T E | Legislation to support this movement can follow the collective unconscious voicing. Write to your district legislator. A third piece that needs to be addressed is the problem of licensing. One notable story describes the potential of the formerly incarcerated.

Dr. Stan Andrisse is an endocrinologist who showed the world post-release that his convicted felon status was something he not only learned from but something his life was changed from. His motivation disallowed him to give up on his dream of being a doctor. Andrisse is an example of just one of many individual circumstances of critical precedence potential that policies like last year’s failed Senate Bill 1512 can look to as they are re-proposed in the future. Keep your eye out for that. The bill would have prohibited licensing boards from denying a license based solely on an applicant’s past criminal record.

Today, careers like psychologist, counselor, (not to mention nurse, and doctor) are off limits no matter the circumstances. Yet, training and employing such lived experiences could be an invaluably positive and productive solution to many dire needs in society. For example, the mental health crisis– if an individual is willing to be qualified by showing time and effort and good character–why should they not be allowed the opportunity to positively influence? Time, effort, character. That is what should be the measurement. Even within this exploding movement of higher education showing massive positive impact to communities, dreams are: limited?

Do Your Solidarity
R E A D | In addition to gaining and showing your solidarity, you can expand your mind alongside Rebound students by following the Alliance reading program. There is always a great book being shared to read and show your solidarity. https://www.higheredinprison.org/info/reading-project

W R I T E | The movement needs many more academicians and grants to contribute sincere research efforts. With growing grant support, PSU Rebound is able to buffer the blow of the struggles faced in the vignette described. So, if you do research, or other, consider contributing! https://www.higheredinprison.org/resources-and-publication

G I V E | https://shorturl.at/csvP0

C E L E B R A T E | Positive research completed has been directly influential to game-changing policy. Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado passed a bill last year (2023) in favor of mandatory reduction of sentences for incarcerated students who have completed a degree through Higher Education in Prison programs.

The views expressed in this article are in proud support of HEP. As always, any questions will be responded to by the author.

Written By
More from Executive Editor
2018 in Movies
As the Oscars approach, we take a look back at memorable movies of 2018
The 91st Academy Awards take place on February 24th, 2019. To reflect...
Read More
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *