Thursday, June 19, 2014


It has been awhile since I have posted anything new to this blog, because our efforts have been delayed. Currently, we're working on figuring out our next steps, as it appears the aforementioned inmate letters to legislators asking for reinstatement require institutional approval in order to be posted to a public blog. This is understandable, as penal institutions must consider public interests when it comes to communication coming from the inside. However, our hope is that we can share some of those moving letters on this blog, very soon.

In continuing to assert our reasoning for this mission, think of this: Education is (or should be) a human right, and it is paid for--at least in America--by all of its citizens, to ensure it is freely accessible to all people through secondary school. Although post-secondary education is subsidized for those eligible for grants and scholarships, it does come with a hefty fee, and that is most often covered by loans. Most of us are aware of the current public discourse on higher education's exorbitant and oppressive cost hanging over us once we graduate. However, those hard-won grants and scholarships do help with the cost of higher education, making it available to people who normally wouldn't be able to afford it, the poor and under-privileged.

Despite the vitriolic comments of many an Internet troll, America's incarcerated still qualify as citizens. Once they are released, they are reentering society as tax-paying individuals to whom most rights are restored (those rights that are still rescinded is the stuff of another conversation). We understand, in our current economic climate, it is nearly impossible to secure a job that will sustain oneself and/or a family without a post-secondary degree, so when someone reenters society with such factors as a criminal record, the requirement to disclose that history on job applications and the bias that already exists against hiring ex-offenders, having a degree could be the key to reversing those attitudes and practices. And that could result in the ability to earn a livable wage.

And how else is he or she going to acquire said livable wage if not educated while in prison? The only way it can be done is if Pell Grants are reinstated.

But what about those loans?--some ask. Maybe we should make that an option instead of "free money" for felons. Well, if we opened up the possibility of loan borrowing for the incarcerated person, who is likely to have entered prison already impoverished and is working for pennies a day if jobs are available on the inside, will return to society with even more disadvantages because now he or she will emerge deeply indebted in the face of all his or her other hurdles. Sure, even our free citizens are straining against huge school loan debt, but at least they do have the possibility of applying for grants (including Pell) toward their education and may already be working while going to school. The loan debt, although seemingly necessary for a lot of us, is an elective decision (I should know, I've willingly signed mountains of paperwork tying me to my own indentured servitude to Sallie Mae). But this elective decision should be left to those who are free and at least have a better opportunity of garnering employment, as opposed to currently incarcerated people who will be forced to create even more difficulty for themselves upon release by signing away their lives to finance companies. Why not instead, have them emerge with credentials garnered through Pell grant disbursement, which could enhance their abilities to quickly become contributing citizens--not only as taxpayers and voters, but as future teachers or other people in society who are effecting change?

Our discussions and advocacy of reinstating Pell grants is merely about reality and reason, and is not calling for overhauling the entire system of mass incarceration, although there is value in that too, and there are plenty of ways to get involved in the cause. However, this effort is about helping us help ourselves, by educating minds and changing lives. It is attempting to show how increasing the likelihood of incarcerated people's success post-release will benefit us as a society, and that it is not only people on the outside calling for reinstatement, but men and women inside, too.

In the meantime, we have been thinking of ways to get the word out to the public on this important issue. Of course, linking to the EIOC and agencies with similar goals is one way to network this theme, but we're just a fledgling grassroots effort and our coverage needs to expand. So, it's back to the drawing board for now. Look for more (and more frequent) updates in the future!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Our writing campaign.

January continues to be Higher Education month, and the folks over at Education from the Inside Out are doing an excellent job promoting higher learning for all (including the incarcerated) through their campaign of everyday people sharing why education has been so important to them. Soon, we here at PGRI will be offering up our own voices to this common goal, in the form of letters petitioning our state representatives for Pell Grant reinstatement.

I have read the letters that inmates of ToCI have written for our cause, and they are full of passion. Sometimes they desperately call out for help; occasionally, they are even angry--but in all cases, the emotion that leaps off the page is completely understandable. The missives speak of lost opportunities for self-improvement, the reduction of chances for success post-release, and loss of hope for balancing one's odds in life, when the opportunity for education is stripped away. These men feel they will be fighting even more of an uphill battle post-release, than they would if they were educated.

Several of the inmates I work with at ToCI have expressed how disappointing it was when Owens Community College ceased their Advanced Job Training program at the institution, which gave many of them hope for future employment. At this point, their only options for intellectual advancement or job skills beyond acquiring a GED is to learn computer repair. We must offer our incarcerated more opportunities than this!

As soon as I can get clearance to post some of these letters, I will. I expect you will be as moved by them as I have been.

And to piggy-back on EIO's efforts, think about how has education been important and integral to your life. Shouldn't these reasons apply to America's incarcerated, as well? After all, education should be a human right, not a privilege.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why "pellgrantsforfelons"?

One of the questions I've gotten several times since our group's agreement to use the blog address pellgrantsforfelons is why we chose a phrase that's so potentially off-putting. I mean, it's hard enough convincing people that prisoners are worthy of recognition as worthwhile human beings, let alone getting them to believe they're deserving of grants, right? Well, it is because of that very mindset that I suggested such an address in the first place: it's attention-grabbing and instantly makes people curious, no matter where they stand on prisoners' rights. It urges people to ask, "What is this organization all about?" "Should I, as a law-abiding taxpayer, be concerned?" "Are they suggesting we just give money to convicted felons?"

Yes, yes we do, when it comes to education.

All people deserve the opportunity to be educated; to intellectually flourish. And as our extended mission statement says, we believe this also applies to those who are incarcerated. But if you're not yet convinced by our beliefs, take a look at a few key points from a study by the RAND Corporation, which determined that educational opportunities for those behind bars is a useful tool against recidivism:

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults

For those who have no issue with inmates having opportunities for education but feel they should pay for it "just like everyone else": everyone else, if not independently wealthy, applies for grants and takes out loans to attend school, as it's expensive. Since those who are incarcerated do not make enough money to pay for higher education and are ineligible for loans, there are no opportunities for them to fund their desire for higher learning. As well, most who are serving time do not have adequate financial support from family to pay the exorbitant costs of even the scant correspondence course opportunities that are available.

Thus, we feel it's time to roll back the devastating changes made in the 1990s to keep those behind bars from getting a proper education and instead, help prepare them for successful re-entry at the end of their sentences. After all, when still in place, Pell Grant funding for the incarcerated comprised less than 1% of total funding in the nation.

I think even in our crappy economy, we can afford that.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

First post! Basic mission statement.

Pell Grant Reinstatement Initiative is a combined, grassroots effort of incarcerated men at Toledo Correctional and local prison reform activists who believe access to federal funds for college should be reinstated for prisoners.

Education has been proven to reduce recidivism, increase opportunities for employment and is the cornerstone of human flourishing. It is time we recognize that America's incarcerated men and women are part of our society, and while they are serving time, it is in the best interest for all of us to support improvement of their minds and lives through opportunities for higher education.

Look for many, many things to come, including valuable and informative links, a website, and passionate letters advocating reinstatement from the prisoners, themselves.