• Joel Brown

    Staff Writer

    Portrait of Joel Brown. An older white man with greying brown hair, beard, and mustache and wearing glasses, white collared shirt, and navy blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey background.

    Joel Brown is a staff writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. He’s written more than 700 stories for the Boston Globe and has also written for the Boston Herald and the Greenfield Recorder. Profile

Comments & Discussion

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There are 19 comments on Behind Bars. And Graduating from BU

  1. Wow. What a fantastic program. We at BU should all be proud to be associated with such an important program. I did I hear about the BU prison project when I first arrived as a young professor in the 1990s, but after that almost never heard of it and someone said it was shut down. I recall speaking to someone about how to teach for it and was advised, “Wait until you have tenure.” It does give one pause that there are no electronics, hm. I see from the article that the problem is that support for the program waxes and wanes. Let’s keep supporting it. Thanks to BU Today for featuring this story.

    1. Hi, Bill. BU, with its extraordinary generosity and commitment to social justice, pays for it. However, there is a donate button on the prison education website — http://sites.bu.edu/pep/. And a significant donation was made by a MET alum to help defray some of the costs of the program at MCI-Framingham.

  2. Fantastic program! I had never heard of it before but it is such a great thing BU is doing for the community, especially with the much reduced rates of repeat offenses. It’s a shame they are changing it from a degree to a certificate when it is making such an impact as it is. There must be some other way they could reduce the BU Hub requirements for people in the program.

  3. This is a great piece and captures the life-changing impact that the BU’s Prison Education Program can have. One thing that was not mentioned, however, is that many of the students also take advantage of the mentoring program offered by Partakers, a nonprofit organization based in Newton. Partakers provides teams of mentors who will visit inmate students on a regular basis to offer both academic and emotional support as they work their way towards a degree. As part of a team of four, I have been mentoring women at MCI Framingham for several years and have found it to be a rewarding experience both for our team and the women we have assisted. Because prisoners lack access to the internet we have often done the research they cannot do and mailed them material. We have recommended and sent them books, encouraged and reviewed their writing and helped with course choices. Most importantly, however, we have developed a mentoring relationship with our prisoners that has frequently extended beyond academics. These personal connections, built over time, have proven to be the most satisfying part of the mentoring process for me and my team. Two of our students have been released and we have been able to provide guidance and support to them as they navigated this difficult transition and approached their release dates. Neither of these women achieved her degree while behind bars, but hopefully they will find the resources and support to do so in the future. At the very least, BU’s program has opened their minds to the academic world, broadened their perspectives and offered them an incentive to continue their education beyond the prison door.

      1. Mary Ellen,
        Thank for your kind words. Partakers does make a big difference in the lives of the prisoners we reach. And, as you know, community support makes a big difference in our ability to continue this program. So we would be most grateful to anyone who reads this note and wishes to make a donation to Partakers to help us continue our work.

  4. I can’t express how my i appreciate the creators of this program, they are also an important and huge part of our society so we need to take them “in consideration”

  5. How interesting ! I am attending commencement this weekend and was looking for who was speaking. I stumbled upon this outstanding article. I am a BU GRADUATE. COM 81. My older son and daughter in law and now my baby! It made me feel proud. I am from Brockton and my longtime cleaning lady Sister Doris Drake did prison ministry. She always believed in those human beings and souls. I never knew about this BU program. I think it is extremely worthwhile. The dedication optimism of the teachers is a lifeline instilling hope. Excellent article and very well written !

  6. This seems like a great program, but the fact that Correia was convicted of aggravated rape seems to be completely glossed over. I understand that this is not, nor should it be, the focus of the article, but aggravated rape is an extremely serious charge. I took the time to research the case online to see if there were some kind of mitigating circumstances, but it appears that Correia had a fair trial; he appealed his case in 2012 and no misconduct was found. As Correia is one of 10 inmates receiving a degree someone else could have been featured, but BU Today chose to feature Correia, and he will be eligible for parole in 2026. Therefore, I think that including a statement of some kind of remorse for committing such a heinous crime, or an acknowledgement of the serious pain inflicted on the victim should have been included. I am not saying that Correia does not have the right to receive a degree, but rape, in particular aggravated rape, should not discussed in an article in such a casual manner.

    1. Here is what comes to my mind in response to your comment MBLN. It is significant that as a professor in PEP I am not aware of why my students are incarcerated. My task is to focus on them as students and scholars, through my work contribute to their rehabilitation through participating in their post-secondary education. I am not there to assess their eligibility for parole, their capacity for remorse. That is the function of the parole board at the appropriate time. There are other programs available (Jericho Circle comes to mind) that address issues of personal responsibility and readiness for parole more directly.
      I am aware that every single one of my students has committed an act that broke the law severely enough for them to be serving long term sentences in our state prisons. I do speculate about what they may have done. Sometimes their crime story comes up in the course of class discussion (I teach Shakespeare, Modern Drama and Poetry). This helps me not to romanticize them or the work we do together. However, in terms of the article there is no need to enter into specifics of a person’s crime, beyond what the article says. Certainly at a parole hearing your expectations seem more appropriate.

  7. I met Steven in 2016, through my work with Partakers while I was a student at Andover Newton Theological School. I shared the feelings of pride and accomplishment at his commencement, though I was unable to attend.

    Over time, my relationship with Steven has evolved from academic support into a valued friendship. Though I am presently in Minnesota, we correspond regularly.

    For me, Steven exemplifies the hope of restorative justice. He has been incarcerated for more than half of his life. Yet, after decades of incarceration, he took on the challenging role of college student and fulfilled all requirements to receive his degree.

    I had been struggling to complete my own graduate degree, which had become complicated due to an extended interruption in my studies by a series of hospitalizations. As I approached the “hard deadline” to finish my own degree, it was Steven’s example – and the photograph of his diploma – that helped me push on. Steven had stayed dedicated to his academic goal while living in what is one of the most difficult environments I have ever encountered. “If Steven can do it,” I told myself, “certainly I can.”

    I have never directly asked Steven why is incarcerated, though it has come up occasionally. What matters most to me is who he is and what he is doing now. The Steven I know is a man of integrity and strong character. If he wasn’t so as a younger man, he has certainly grown into someone who embodies those qualities. I’m sure that BU’s College Behind Bars Program contributed significantly to this process.

  8. I graduated from the MET/PEP in 2018.

    I cannot express the importance of this program. For many prisoners, all they know is rejection, shame, anger, resentment, and utter failure.

    I have known all these things and more. Then, I received a wonderful opportunity from a wonderful university. I have a degree. I have been a Teacher’s Assistant and a Tutor (a prisoner teaching prisoners!). I have even been able to teach unaffiliated non-credit courses in Basic Music Theory; Creative Writing; and Academic writing.

    But, the program, while not shut down, is no longer giving degrees. There are a limited number of students who are already matriculated, but for new students the opportunity is lost.

    Was is funding? Interest? Public resentment? The prisoner only hears rumors.

    The recidivism for most returning prisoners is nearly 40%. This reflects a lack of employment, opportunity, and trust in the community. August Baol expressed concerning prisoners, a hibernating bear, when awakened, is still a bear. A prisoner who enters the system, and then is released without a major change to his life, will be the same criminal who entered the system. The DOC is not interested in changing prisoners. Their responsibility is “custody and control”. Public safety is narrowed to the prevention of escapes. Massachusetts invests over 700 Million in the DOC. The DOC uses most of this money to pay their officers and staff. Education is limited, Programing is limited, the opportunity to transform a criminal to a citizen is limited.

    What response can we make to this? The prisoner must be given the opportunity to grow as a human being. Prison education is paramount in this endeavor. When a prisoner receives an education, it goes beyond a simple degree. His mind opens to a whole new way of thinking and interacting with the world around him. Without education, the prisoner only knows the confinement of prison walls.

    Now, I have heard the line, “Gee, I could have saved a bunch of money on my student loans by getting a free education in Prison. Aren’t they so lucky?”

    If you want to be completely isolated from your family and friends; rejected by your children and parents; emotionally abused by correctional officers and staff; told when you can eat, shower, exercise, go outside, and use the bathroom; live with a homeless man in a space the size of most closets; and then rejected by society, employers, landlords upon release… Then, please, get your “free” education in prison. Personally, I would rather have gone to college as a free man. Anyone can pay that debt.

  9. While I applaud the efforts of both inmates and educators to make it possible to contribute to a society that they have wronged, I can’t help but think about the many law abiding students who have recieved a different kind of life sentence- a life time of college debt to repay .

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