Editor’s Note: Today’s columns were written by three incarcerated students from the Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall (YPEI), which has brought credited Yale courses to students in Connecticut prisons since 2018. Last year’s Opinion Editors, Katherine Hu ’21 and Adrian Rivera ’20, worked with students at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, through the process of writing and editing these pieces. In accordance with conversations with the Connecticut Department of Corrections, we have agreed to publish the full name of only one of these three individuals.
In a short period of time, the Yale Prison Education Initiative has become a beacon of light in a place that perpetuates darkness. As a student in the program, I can attest to the array of transcendental qualities that Yale courses have bestowed upon students in MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution.
For starters, YPEI has single-handedly changed the entire atmosphere within the prison. Before Yale’s presence in the facility, there were hardly any opportunities to promote individual growth and learning. Sadly, this fact sent many minds into mental darkness with no real means to jar them out of their rut. But with the emergence of YPEI came the desire for knowledge, for enlightenment. In an instant, the usual dredge of the day-to-day became an entire new world of opportunity, hope and, above all, redemption. I bore witness to the facility-wide dialogue, which quickly shifted from “fake news” and sports gossip to topics related to liberal arts education — all in one fell swoop. That type of conversation still reigns supreme today as those same minds continue to strive for more.
The chosen few who have been blessed with the YPEI experience have been awakened to the untapped potential that lies dormant within us all. Yale, in that respect, has given us the gift of new life. We are no longer subject to the limitations prison culture submerges its occupants under because now, we have the critical thinking skills necessary to surpass boundaries that have been set in stone for ages. We are no longer influenced by our toxic environments — for we have become the influence. As we continue to seek and aspire to higher ideas and goals, we have become motivation and inspiration for those who seek the same. None of it would have been possible without YPEI.
I touched on the positivity Yale has brought to MacDougall. I spoke to the intellectual aspects of the program, too. But the last transcendental quality I want to shed light on is love.
YPEI has provided all of us students with a sense of love that only family can provide. I assume that this is the natural order on campus, which may at times go underrated or overlooked, but in prison this sense of belonging, protection and security is rejuvenating. To me, what seems to be the most prominent feature of all the staff and Yale students I have encountered throughout my time with YPEI is that, when you are a part of Yale, you are a part of a family, and there is no limit to what they will do in the name of helping you become the best you can be.
For that feeling — for all the time, effort and resources spent — I am forever grateful. I beg you for your continued support of the Yale Prison Education Initiative.
EVAN is an incarcerated student at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, and a participant in the Yale Prison Education Initiative at Dwight Hall.
An earlier version of this piece referred to the “McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution.” It is MacDougall, not McDougall.