Corrections Education Program Success Stories
Going to college put Brian Jones on the path to a new future. Jackson College’s Corrections Education Program offered him that opportunity.
Brian Jones understands the importance of making good choices.
When Jones was still a senior in high school, a poor choice changed the course of his future. Convicted of armed robbery, attempted murder and felony firearm at 18, he spent nearly two decades in Michigan’s corrections system.
In 2013, two years before his release, he heard about the opportunity to go to college while behind bars. Education offered an opportunity for a better future, so he chose the opportunity. “I understand that education is the great equalizer,” Jones said. “You have to have certain tools to get out of prison, return to society, function and make a living. After being incarcerated for 15 years, I needed updated tools and education to return to society.”
Jones loved his classes on the “inside” and maintained a perfect 4.0-grade point average. He completed 24 credits before his release, which also prepared him for the transition to the outside. “It put me back into my frame of mind to receive information, to think critically and to be inside of the classroom setting. Even though the setting consisted of other inmates, it still began the orientation of my mind to know what a classroom feels like. When I did return to society and made that transition, it was very, very smooth.”
Jones continued his studies by completing his associate degree at Oakland Community College in the paralegal program. He is continuing his studies at Eastern Michigan University and then plans to attend law school.
The path has not always been easy. Eastern at first denied him admission because of his felony conviction. He appealed the decision and had a campus hearing. With positive references from instructors, family members, mentors and former employees – in particular, work he has done with the Goodwill organization – he was granted admission.
Along with continuing his education, Jones has advocated for educational opportunities for the incarcerated in both Lansing and Washington, D.C., connecting with Jackson College, the Michigan Department of Corrections, and the Vera Institute of Justice. He has also opened his own business, a clothing store.
“Many persons who are incarcerated don’t feel going to college and obtaining an education is feasible to do. It is not only feasible, but it’s much more simple to do when you decide to do it. It is a choice. Making the choice and disciplining yourself to further your education, more opportunities will open up for you.”
JeQuillian “Chan” Chandler
College classes pushed JeQuillian Chandler and his classmates to be the best they could be. Jackson College’s Corrections Education Program opened new horizons.
JeQuillian “Chan” Chandler started college classes with one goal in mind – to use his time in prison to position himself for something greater.
Incarcerated at 18 for armed robbery, Chandler sought ways to teach himself throughout the early years of his sentence. Working in the library, he had access to resources to read and learn. He kept that focus on self-improvement, and in 2013, an opportunity arose that would change his life.
He was among the first students to join what was then the Prison Education Initiative (PEI) program in 2013, when he was transferred to the Cooper Street Facility. Incarcerated people could pay to take Jackson College courses, and Chandler used the money he had saved to take his first class. He took another the next semester and then was able to use Pell Grant funds to continue his studies. By 2017, he’d completed two associate degrees.
“When I started out, my focus was not on obtaining a degree. The constant question I was asked was, ‘what are your plans post-incarceration?’ I thought I would need something more immediate, like employment. I didn’t think school was a real possibility,” he said. In talking to staff and faculty from Jackson College, he learned about the opportunities available to him and gained a new perspective.
Classes in the facility were small, with just 10-15 students, and one-on-one contact with the professor and each other created a healthy learning community, becoming a beacon of hope in a difficult place. “We had a very competitive environment, but from a healthy standpoint. We wanted to be the best version of ourselves,” he said.
After succeeding in the PEI program, he realized that his incarceration would not prevent him from meaningful higher learning. In 2017, he reached out to several service organizations seeking help with the application process to other Michigan universities. This was a lengthy and difficult process, but his educational goals had taken root and he was willing to put in the work. Upon his release in early 2019, Chandler became the first student while on parole to be accepted into the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He’s getting good grades in classes and has gotten involved in some student organizations, sharing his own story to let people see what is possible for students who were formerly incarcerated. He hopes to encourage others to pursue their education.
“A lot of older individuals don’t see school as a viable option. But if you look at education as a stepping stone, you can get ahead while incarcerated – an associate degree is a huge stepping stone. I highly recommend it.”
College classes helped Ramsey learn more about himself and built camaraderie with fellow inmates. And in less than 30 days after release, he was gainfully employed.
Ramsey Fakhouri let opportunities slip by after high school. He got involved with a wrong crowd and was “living aimlessly.”
Classes at Wayne State University weren’t for him. Attending barber school wasn’t for him. He couldn’t find the right direction for his future, but unfortunately, he found a wrong one. At age 21, he was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 78 months incarceration. The Federal Correctional Institution in Milan became his residence.
However, it was there that he found direction. Deciding that life is what you make of it, Fakhouri managed to forge his own path while on the inside, staying away from cliques and drama while learning to take responsibility for his own decisions. When he learned about the opportunity to enroll in college classes, he was ecstatic. College was definitely something for him. Classes helped him focus and opened up new lines of communication.
“The shell broke, so to speak. We began to grow and openly talk about things, which was refreshing and invigorating, especially in that environment.”
While connecting with classmates, Fakhouri flourished as a student. He maintained a perfect 4.0-grade point average and graduated with three associate degrees. He was the first student from a federal prison facility inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Establishing a tutoring program for his classmates, he went to receive PTK’s Distinguished Chapter Member Award.
“You get to know your classmates on a different level when in class and sharing your life with them,” he said. “The college class allowed people to grow together, to build a community if you will.”
He began applying to universities before his release and was accepted at one university that then rescinded its offer when it learned of his felony conviction. Later, he was accepted to the University of Michigan and received a scholarship. He’s currently taking classes at the U-M Dearborn campus in business administration – information systems management and expects to graduate in December 2020 or spring 2021.
In less than 30 days of his release, Fakhouri landed a job as a quality manager with a $45,000-plus annual salary. “That was monumental for me, and Jackson College was a huge part of that.” Forming his own nonprofit organization, Second Chance Nation, allows him to give back for all he has received.
“The education I received opened up so many doors,” he said. “I’d like to help break some of the common opinions about incarcerated people. I graduated with three associate degrees; I came out smarter, wiser, and able to find a job and hold a more intellectual conversation. It transcended more areas of my life.”
CEP student finds hope, fun in ‘doing the right thing’
“New hopes and dreams were discovered by me during my time at Jackson College. All of the guest speakers during the ‘Men of Merit’ seminars encouraged me and helped motivate me. There were MANY tools given at those seminars that I use this very day. So much resonated and stuck with me during my college journey. I use to ask myself, “If all of these people that know nothing of me believes in me, then why can’t I believe in myself?”
“When I became incarcerated, I had ZERO hope. I had no plans and there was so much ambiguity about my future. I said to myself, ‘I’m a convicted felon, my life is over.’ But Jackson College blazed a trail for me so I took it and never looked back. I had no clue I could be this productive. I had no clue I was this smart and that I had this much will. I had no idea that doing the right thing was this much fun.
“I’ll forever be indebted to Jackson College and the wonderful people that believed in me and gave me an opportunity. Jackson College will forever be that beacon light of hope that keeps me out of the dark. Thank you all for EVERYTHING!”