Northwestern’s Prison Education Program and the Journey of two students

In a world where the walls of incarceration often seem unbeatable, stories of triumph emerge as guiding lights of hope. At the forefront of this narrative stands the Northwestern Prison Education Program, an initiative dedicated to offering incarcerated individuals the transformative power of education. Through interviews with Jennifer Lackey, Director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program, and two remarkable students, Bernard McKinley and DeJuan Gaines, a tale of resilience, determination, and the pursuit of justice unfolds.

Established in 2018, the Northwestern Prison Education Program emerged as an educational opportunity within the confines of Stateville’s Correctional Center. With a mission to provide bachelor’s degree programs to incarcerated students, the program has become a symbol of hope and redemption. Jennifer Lackey, the program’s director shared insights into its inception, highlighting the rigorous admissions process that selects only a fraction of applicants for each cohort. Despite facing immense competition, Bernard McKinley and DeJuan Gaines secured their places in the program, marking the beginning of their extraordinary journeys.

Bernard McKinley, a grand example to the transformative power of education, entered prison at the age of 16, facing a daunting 100-year sentence. Despite his sentence Bernard persevered, he immersed himself in learning, earning his paralegal certificate by the age of 25. His commitment to education granted him a reduction in his sentence, a testament to his unwavering determination. Through the Northwestern Prison Education Program, Bernard found not only academic enrichment but also a community of like-minded individuals striving for a better future. His aspirations to become a civil rights attorney and establish a non-profit legal center stand as a testament to the program’s impact, offering a pathway to redemption and purpose.

DeJuan Gaines, another shining example of resilience, found inspiration within the walls of the Northwestern Prison Education Program. Despite facing adversity at a young age, DeJuan discovered newfound motivation through education, fueled by a promise made to his late grandmother. His journey from a medium-security prison to the maximum-security confines of Stateville’s Correctional Center exemplifies his dedication to academic excellence. With aspirations to earn his bachelor’s degree and pursue entrepreneurship, DeJuan embodies the spirit of transformation fostered by the program. His desire to share his story and inspire future generations reflects a profound commitment to community and social change.

Beyond the confines of incarceration, both Bernard and DeJuan have found support and guidance through Safer Foundation’s Crossroads Adult Transition Center. As they prepare to reintegrate into society, their educational achievements illuminate a path forward beyond the shadows of their past.

“One thing about Safer, is that Safer has given me the opportunity to go to Law school even if I have stay here longer. Safer has created that safety net for me to continue my education even if I’m incarcerated. That’s one important aspect of being here, that a lot of people need to see because technically we are still incarcerated but it’s not hindering us from making that gradual transition into society and prevent us from falling behind.” -Bernard McKinley

As we celebrate the triumphs of Bernard McKinley, DeJuan Gaines, and countless others, let us recognize the transformative power of education in breaking the cycle of recidivism. Their stories remind us that behind every prison wall lies the potential for redemption, and through education, we can pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future for all.

In closing, let us reflect on Jennifer Lackey’s words of allowing the example set by the Northwestern Prison Education Program to inspire institutions nationwide. For within the confines of incarceration lies the untapped potential of countless individuals yearning for a second chance and the opportunity to rewrite their destinies.