The Transformative Power of Education

I was 18 years old and had been incarcerated at Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center in Virginia for four years when, in the spring of 2016, a very unorthodox educational opportunity became available to me and my peers: a University of Virginia (UVA) program called Books Behind Bars. This is a class conducted by Professor Andrew Kaufman, in which his UVA students travelled to Beaumont once a week to discuss Russian literature. We were divided into eight groups sitting at eight different tables. At each table UVA, students and offenders discussed the works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and other Russian authors.

Initially, I suspected that things would have been awkward and tense by taking people from polar opposite backgrounds and integrating them into a vulnerable environment. I was abrasive and thought that it was not for me. My colleagues and peers encouraged me to give it a chance. I recall in particular one story we read by Leo Tolstoy called “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” In this story the protagonist ends up losing everything including his life because of his greed. “Six feet from head to toe was all he needed,” Tolstoy writes at the end. We all had different viewpoints on Tolstoy’s answer to the question in the story’s title. By the end of the conversation, I realized that my own beliefs could be changed by openly listening to those of others.

As the weeks carried on, the UVA students and I began to get to know each other through the stories we were discussing. After breaking down the literature and exchanging thoughts and feelings about the stories, we began to communicate on a level that was previously non-existent for us all. I realized I could be vulnerable, change my mind, and even admit to not being certain about my answer, without being judged by the others.

Not only was I learning about the individuals at my table, but I was also learning about myself, discovering views, beliefs, and feelings. During one conversation, about a story called “My First Tooth” by Varlam Shalamov, I learned that I was much more forgiving than I thought I was. Just like the narrator of the story had forgiven the prison guard who had once mistreated him, I suddenly realized that I was now finally able to forgive my step-brother for the role he played in my incarceration. I discovered the role literature and conversation could play in my own transformation.

While at that table, I discovered part of my identity. I realized that my social identity was not as blemished as I thought it was. I learned that my university peers, in completely different life situations, shared the same problems as me, and they too were trying to become better people. As strange as it may sound, it was as if, during those ninety-minute conversations each week, I was free while incarcerated. I was mentally freed from that institutional, systematic oppressing narrative that ruled my life at the time. While inside those classroom doors sitting at the tables with my UVA partners, I was the only person I had never been before: myself.

I started to notice that the impact of the class was reaching outside of those metaphorical prison gates. For example, my communication was greatly improved. My mother and I didn’t have the greatest connection. One day after the Books Behind Bars class I started an open discussion with her and we started to communicate differently, with the purpose of learning about one another. We talked about why we were not very close emotionally. We talked about her childhood and how it affected the manner in which she expressed love and care. A very overdue connection was initiated between the two of us.

The lessons I was learning from those discussions about Russian literature were something I started implementing in most of all of my communications. It was if I was meeting everyone I previously knew all over again. I was now able to communicate openly about uncomfortable topics.

As the Russian literature class came to an end, it was very bittersweet. Although we had to go, we were leaving with so much more than we came in with. It was then that I discovered the power of true education. It can change your mind set about who you are as a person and can change how you relate to others. From then on, I took my education as seriously as the Sahara takes rain, and enrolled in every educational program available.

I am now 24 years old and have been released for over a year. The impact that the Books Behind Bars class had on my identity still exists today. I can see how effectively I communicate in personal and business conversations. I notice it in my relationships with family and friends. I truly believe that I would not be the person I am today, nor have obtained the level of success that I have, if I would have never enrolled in that unusual Russian literature class in the spring of 2016. It opened a door to opportunity, and when I walked through that door, I found a new me and began a new life.


Brad Brewer is a former student in the Books Behind Bars program that is founded by UVA Professor Andrew D. Kaufman. Add this link:

Does Character Have a Role to Play in Prison Education Programs? Yes.

On March 21, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden signed a proclamation to celebrate “Second Chance Month.” Launched in 2017, with support from Prison Fellowship, and a resolution unanimously passed by the United States Senate, Second Chance Month is, as President Biden stated, a time at which:

“We must commit to second chances from the earliest stages of our criminal justice system. Supporting second chances means, for example, diverting individuals who have used illegal drugs to drug court programs and treatment instead of prison. It requires eliminating exceedingly long sentences and mandatory minimums that keep people incarcerated longer than they should be. It means providing quality job training and educational opportunities during incarceration to prepare individuals for the 21st century economy. And it means reinvesting the savings from reduced incarceration into reentry programs and social services that prevent recidivism and leave us all better off.”

Providing an education to incarcerated adults is an important endeavor. Generally speaking, our state and federal prison systems have four education categories:

  • Adult Basic Education: basic skills instruction in arithmetic, reading, writing, and, if needed, English as a second language (ESL);
  • Adult Secondary Education: instruction to complete high school or prepare for a certificate of high school equivalency, such as the General Educational Development (GED) program;
  • Vocational Education or Career and Technical Education: training in general employment skills and in skills for specific jobs or industries; and,
  • Postsecondary Education: college-level instruction that enables an individual to earn college credit that may be applied towards a two-year or four-year postsecondary degree.

Supporters of prison education programs, including myself, will often debate the merits of vocational education vs. liberal arts programs, the benefits of a GED vs. a college degree, or the superiority of in-person instruction vs. online learning. Although each topic is important to any discussion about rehabilitation, character development for prison education programs is a topic that receives little attention.

One organization that incorporates character development into its pre- and post-release model to help incarcerated adults achieve personal and professional success is RISE, an Omaha-based nonprofit that operates an education program inside seven Nebraska prisons. To achieve its vision to see “that all people will find freedom from cycles of incarceration,” RISE students—called “Builders”—participate in an innovative six-month program that focuses on character development, job readiness, and entrepreneurship to prepare for a new life inside or outside of prison. Builders that graduate from the program receive a RISE completion certificate and a certificate in career readiness from the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s School of Business Administration.

I learned about RISE from Todd Johnson, the Senior Vice President of Economic Development for the Greater Omaha Chamber, and, at that time a member of an entrepreneurship and economic mobility working group I led for a few years while he was a senior executive at Gallup. Recently, Johnson was appointed a member of the RISE board of directors.

In 2019, I traveled to Nebraska to see the RISE program in action and to learn about its unique curriculum. Once inside a prison, I was asked to judge a business competition pitch for Builders, and engage in conversations with prison staff, RISE volunteers, and its leadership team. I even participated in a “welcome to RISE dance” for first-time visitors to the prison program (if you call what I did a dance). I learned a lot about RISE and prison reform in general in Nebraska, learnings I summarized in an op-ed I coauthored with my undergraduate research intern from Dillard University.

In March 2021, a former RISE student—now a RISE employee—published a story in a report about his experience in the program and what it meant for his overall development as a person. Here are a couple of noteworthy quotes from this story (see story number 5):

“One of the most beneficial experiences I got from RISE was going over the material twice a week in a group setting with a RISE program coordinator leading the way. This provided an opportunity for us to grow both as individuals and as a community by creating a space to get real and vulnerable with one another—something that is rare inside a correctional facility, but oh, so needed. These sessions gave me an opportunity to look at everything I had learned up to that point and challenged me to go deeper.”

When describing benefits from RISE beyond the certificate, or the creation of a business plan, the author touched on the deep, cultural meanings RISE added to his life.

“So, what have I gotten out of educational programs during incarceration? The first thing I found was hope. Then I acquired some self-honesty. These two things propelled me down a path of transformation where I started finding principles that were completely foreign to me. They include honesty, integrity, forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, faith, compassion, kindness, mercy, patience, and grace.”

As we promote the academic and job readiness benefits of prison education programs during Second Chance Month (and beyond), let us remember to promote personal agency benefits as well. Character development is one of the benefits that we should pursue in more prison education programs.


Gerard Robinson served as Commissioner of Education for the State of Florida and Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia. His other leadership roles have included Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity and Director and President of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Robinson also was a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is coeditor of Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons (2019) and Education Savings Accounts: The New Frontier in School Choice (2017). In addition, he cohosts The Learning Curve: National Education PodcastRobinson has been published or quoted in AEI Ideas, Gallup News, Newsweek, The Hedgehog Review, the Hill, the New York Times, the Washington Examiner, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and US News & World Report. He earned a BA and EdM from Harvard University and an AA from El Camino Community College.

Power in Partnership: How SEAs Impact School Culture

In August 2019, Ken Bond, Acting Director of the Office of Professional Learning Networks, invited me to contribute to the DOE Digest, a podcast released by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) tackling statewide issues related to education. I had recently been announced as the Camden County Teacher of the Year and had been asked to share my observations on school climate and culture. On DOE Digest Episode 7: Building the House: Staff Climate and Culture, I defined school “climate [as] the environment we create for teaching and learning. And culture is the home we build to live in. We have to lean on each other all [of] the time, so that culture–that home we live in, has to be really structurally sound.”

State Education Agencies (SEAs) are responsible for building the house that students and educators call home. What I came to learn after being named the 2020 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year was that SEAs must lean on various stakeholders to ensure that all decisions impacting schools are “structurally sound.” As a result of the combined efforts of NJ State Teachers of the Year before me and partnerships with education institutions, I had the unique opportunity to serve with the Office of Professional Learning on a six-month sabbatical and experienced firsthand how SEAs reach far beyond regulation and compliance to meet the needs of all learners. SEAs are uniquely positioned to bring stakeholders together and directly impact school culture by engaging people, programs, and partners.


I immediately connected with the people working at the NJDOE. Most of these individuals had worked as educators prior to their current position and came to the DOE to make a difference statewide. What caught my attention most was that the individuals working for the SEA were most interested in supporting individuals in the field. In conversation with Bev Plein, Director of the Office of Professional Standards and National Milken Educator, she shared her vision as an “opportunity maker” for school leaders, educators, and community members. She was not alone in this philosophy and countless other SEA employees were going beyond data to make a connection with students and educators.


Putting people first at an SEA means designing sustainable programs that fulfill an ongoing need. Red Bank Borough Public Schools, a local education agency (LEAs), follows the motto “It’s people, not programs, that make the difference.” This philosophy is not to say that we should not take measures to meet a long term goal; rather, we should meet people where they are and support their growth. From this understanding, the NJDOE hosts an annual Statewide Equity Conference which creates a space for constructive conversation and collaboration around fairness, access, and opportunity. SEAs can continue providing professional learning by surveying the field and providing comprehensive support based on need. SEAs can also facilitate programs that empower LEAs to turn key the success of their practitioners and create a model that thrives on feedback between agencies. For instance, the “Lighthouse Initiative recognizes districts in New Jersey for illuminating the path toward academic improvement and student success” and prior to school building closures the NJDOE facilitated a professional learning week in which these LEAs opened their doors from around the State to learn about innovative programs and practices. All of these efforts immediately impact school climate and culture.


SEAs thrive in partnership with stakeholders. No decision can be made by the agency alone if it wants the best possible outcomes. Implementation with the input and collaboration of your education partners leads to success and one of the greatest examples of that happened during the pandemic. After Governor Murphy issued Executive Order 104 moving all New Jersey schools to remote instruction, the NJDOE immediately partnered with NJ PBS and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) to meet the needs of our most vulnerable learners who did not have access to a device or reliable internet connection. For thirteen weeks, these partners worked together with approximately 200 educators to film from home for public television. Each day there was four hours of educational content in all subject areas for grades 3-6 culminating in 216 total hours of instruction. This collaboration was a herculean effort that preserved school culture for students when they could not enter school buildings and were still guaranteed access to a quality education. SEAs find power in partnership and can leverage these partnerships for greater opportunities in the future.

Although these examples only give us a glimpse into the possibilities of people, programs, and partnership, it is the SEA that brings them all together to make policy meaningful. SEAs work tirelessly in the best interest of our students and educators to promote equity and excellence. As the education landscape continues to change, SEAs will not only play an important role in school culture, they will also be essential in re-envisioning school success.


Kimberly Dickstein-Hughes, 2020 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, teaches English Language Arts at Haddonfield Memorial High School. Hughes earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Rutgers University and teaches as an adjunct professor at Rowan University’s College of Education. Hughes’ areas of interest include critical global literacies, culturally responsive teaching, and Shakespeare studies. Hughes has been awarded for her commitment to public service, selflessly contributing her time and effort to better her community. As NJSTOY, Hughes toured NJ public schools, served with NJ Department of Education, and initiated stakeholder collaboration on teacher recruitment, professional learning, and youth voice. Hughes teaches through a social justice and anti-bias framework and believes educational equity can be achieved through radical compassion and collective action.




The Evolving Role of the State Education Agency

State Education Agencies (SEA) are often not visible to the general public, or even to those in the education field. There exists a wide inconsistency of understandings as to what happens inside the walls of an agency. This has resulted in a great variety of opinions as to how much leadership should be exerted by an SEA. But it is interesting to note, that the functions and requirements of SEAs have changed dramatically over the past decades, as have the roles of the individuals who are the hard-working public servants in those agencies.

The US Department of Education wasn’t officially established until 1979 with the primary purpose of ensuring equitable education opportunities. In contrast, SEAs date as far back as 1812 and initially served primarily in an advisory capacity. With compulsory education coming in the early 1900’s, departments took a stronger role in determining minimum standards. It was between 1953 – 1983, and prior to the official creation of the US Department of Education, that the federal influence on education increased. Thus, the current memory is that SEAs were primarily tasked with administering state and federal education laws, dispersing state and federal resources, and providing guidance to public districts and schools across the state. This oversight role translated into agencies being viewed as compliance entities only.

A pivotal moment occurred with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which required each state to adopt standards, assessments, and accountability programs. Heightened attention to issues such as turning around low-performing schools, fixing state data systems, and improving teacher evaluations put a significant burden on state education agencies and sometimes putting them at odds with school districts and their leaders. And, often under the media spotlight.

The next significant movement occurred with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESSA) in 2015. As SEAs worked to improve their accountability systems, there were requirements to engage the communities and education field for input. Adoption of what was termed “rigorous” content standards, upgrading teacher evaluation systems, joining newly formed assessment consortiums, and moving high stakes tests online placed state agencies in the spotlight.

This did not, however, lessen federal and state compliance and reporting requirements, placing an even heavier burden on SEA personnel. Controversy surrounding many of the reform initiatives implemented by SEAs sometimes caused additional and unwarranted scrutiny. Oversight offices with direct ties to legislatures and governors, driven by pressure from outside constituents, would sometimes question department authority and competence. It was not unusual to see roles and budgets challenged resulting in state departments being downsized and suffering reductions from proponents of smaller government.

While compliance and regulatory functions remained important and substantial, expectations expanded. There was and continues to be, mounting pressure for departments to incorporate measures to support increasing performance for all students. Their function has evolved from monitoring compliance with state and federal laws and regulations to supporting school districts in pursuing the daunting task of inspiring and stimulating local school systems to strive for the highest educational quality.

However, today and throughout the past year, state education agency leadership and staff have faced unprecedented demands. There was no playbook for how an SEA should function in a year-long pandemic. Immediate, decisions needed to be made when schools closed in the spring of 2021.

While many determinations needed to be made at the local level, schools looked to SEA leadership for guidance. Most immediate was the need for agencies to quickly determine where to direct resources and how to support districts in getting students the access and devices to participate remotely. District leaders needed state-level decisions made regarding attendance and graduation requirements to complete the school year. Policies and laws for reporting and compliance at both the state and federal level needed to be examined to determine what was reasonable and possible without in person schooling.

With no ability to predict when things would improve, the summer of 2020 required the SEAs to engage in conversations with the departments of health for guidance on safely resuming face to face instruction. Social distancing, masking, and building air quality were completely new conversations that were critical to gain public and educator trust prior to returning to the classroom.

SEAs are now faced with the rising concerns over the impact of the past year on students, both academically and mentally. While additional federal funds are being allocated to address the many effects of the pandemic, critical questions and conversations are occurring regarding how to accurately measure learning disruption and which interventions should be invested in to support students upon return.

But behind all those decisions and policies, you find dedicated staff. They are the invisible individuals who work tirelessly to ensure that districts have the information they need to continue to function for the ultimate goal of continuing to improve opportunities for students’ success. People are the SEA and have proven, more than ever, over this past year their impact on the culture and learning in our schools.


Dr. Melody Schopp has spent over 40 years in education with two decades as a classroom teacher. She joined the Department of Education in 2000 and held numerous roles prior to her appointment as Secretary of Education in 2010, which she held for seven years. Dr. Schopp took her leadership capabilities beyond the borders of South Dakota and served on numerous national educational boards. She was chosen by her peers to serve as the president of the Chief State School Officers, where her platform was focused on elevating the teaching profession. After “recareering” in 2017, she supported a number of clients across the country as a national education consultant. She joined the SAS Institute in December 2020 as a Principal Education Advisor. She dedicates her spare moments to staying active as well as her adult children and most importantly, her granddaughter Vivienne, that reminds her daily of why this work matters.


From Classroom Teacher to Elected Leader—It Is Possible

If someone had told me that I would end up running for an office immersed in politics 10 years ago, I would have said they were crazy. Never say never.

In 2009, I was humbled to be named the Utah State Teacher of the Year. That year was filled with opportunities to engage with policymakers, within Utah and across the country. I found myself sitting in a conference listening to elected officials discuss public education and their ideas on how to improve upon what they referred to as “our failing public schools.”

It was at this moment that I realized the voice of educators was missing from this conversation. This is analogous to leaving out the brain surgeons when discussing the latest techniques in brain surgery!

I decided to do something about it. I put my hat in the ring for the office of President of the Utah Education Association and ended up winning the election. Baptism by fire, as they say. It became the hardest job I have ever loved.

I ask you, my fellow educators, to make a list of any classroom decisions you make that are not affected by politics. The list is likely a small one. Curriculum, discipline policies, and parent engagement are all influenced by elected officials, from local school boards to state legislatures to the federal government. Educators might not be interested in politics, but that does not mean politicians are not interested in us.

Running for political office puts our voices and expertise in the conversation. We know what research-based best practices work for students. We understand the complexities of teaching. We need to share our expertise about what we do best: teach.

Start small. It is all about relationships, relationships, relationships. Write an op-ed for your local newspaper. Attend your local school board meeting and arrange to speak in support of a position or perhaps express concern over topics being debated. Visit Capitol Hill during the legislative session. Speak with your state representatives and senators. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. Stay in touch all year long and not just during the session.

Now that your feet are wet, think about running for office! Be sure you have the time and energy to devote to this endeavor. It is exhausting but well worth it.

Most of us have heard the saying, “If you are not at the table, you are likely on the menu.” Time to get a seat at the table. Political office opens the door for educators to influence policy, to change hearts and minds about teaching, and to elevate what is best for students and the educators charged with this sacred duty. If not us, who?

In today’s polarized political world, we need educators to step up and lead. That requires courage, professionalism, risk-taking, critical thinking, collaboration, and expertise. Sound familiar?  It should. It is what we do every single day in our classroom with students.

Our students need us to speak for equitable funding, practices, and policies. The only way to do this is to get in the political game. Standing on the sidelines is not an option. Find a way to get in the game!

I honestly believe public education is the path toward improved communities, communication, and an improved world. If we do not step up now, others will do so. We see this manifest itself in ways that are detrimental to our students and our profession.

We see the consequences for students when well-intentioned but ill-informed policies are implemented. We see the consequences for our profession as we face massive teacher shortages across the country.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is our time to be agents of change. Our students and our profession are worth it.


Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh was an educator in Salt Lake City, Utah, for 32 years. In 2010, Sharon was elected, in a statewide vote, President of the Utah Education Association and served for a total of six years. Sharon is a National Board Certified Teacher, the 2009 Utah Teacher of the Year, and a recipient of the 2009 California Casualty Academic Award for Teaching Excellence and the 2009 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence. In April 2010, the National Education Association Foundation awarded her its top honor, the $25,000 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence. Sharon is a Board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.  She has served as the Chair of the NEA Foundation’s Board of Directors and the Vice Chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Board of Directors.







Educators Running for Office—Take the Plunge

2018 was dubbed the “year of the teacher” because a record number of educators became candidates for public office that year. Teacher strikes across the country due to perennial issues such as large class sizes, budget cuts, and chronic low pay motivated many teachers to step outside of their comfort zones, put down their dry erase markers, and put on their canvassing shoes. Two high-profile victories that year included Tony Evers, the former Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Schools, who won his race to became Governor of Wisconsin. And Jahana Hayes, a former history teacher, administrator and Connecticut Teacher of the Year, who successfully ran a campaign to become a Congresswoman representing Connecticut’s 5th district.

A breakdown of candidate demographics according to Education Week reveals that in 2018 54% of teacher candidates were women, while 46% were men. 79% of candidates ran as Democrats, 18% ran as Republicans, 2% were independents, and one ran as a member of the Green Party. 82% of teachers ran for a state house seat, while 18% ran for a state senate seat. 2018 was not an aberration, however. According to the National Education Association, 90 educators successfully ran for public office in 2020. This is good news for our communities and our country because educators make outstanding candidates and officeholders.

Educators are excellent candidates for public office for many reasons, first and foremost, because people trust them. When most Americans have an unfavorable view of politics and politicians in general, 60% of respondents to a recent Forbes poll ranked teachers “very high” in terms of honesty and ethical standards. Teachers generally live and work in the communities they want to represent. They know their constituents and have demonstrated a deep commitment to them by educating and advocating for their children. Further, education is an issue most Americans care about.

A recent study conducted by PDK International determined that six in ten voters said education was “extremely” or “very important” in making their electoral decision. As a result, when a teacher knocks on the door or makes a phone call to a potential voter, they will have a mutual concern in common that can help build bridges across the partisan divide. This is a good thing, especially when the political landscape has become increasingly polarized and divisive.

Once in office, educators can put their classroom experiences to good use. The knowledge, skills, and dispositions required to succeed in public service are similar to the competencies developed in writing lesson plans, assessing student learning, and making data-driven decisions to improve student achievement. Successful teachers are organized, strategic planners, analytical thinkers, and detailed oriented, all of which are invaluable skills necessary to be an effective civic leader.

Additionally, teachers have strong interpersonal skills and understand the importance of developing and nurturing relationships by building trust through effective communication and active listening. Teachers know how to ask good questions and find common ground solutions. They effectively manage conflict and defuse tense situations, as any teacher who has been in a volatile parent-teacher conference can tell you.

The Nevada legislature currently has over a dozen members who have backgrounds in education. One of them is freshman Senator, Dr. Carrie Buck. Senator Buck spent a career in education before running for public office, first as a teacher and administrator in public schools, and then leading a charter school as its principal, executive director, and eventually as the president of the school’s foundation. Senator Buck points out that one of the strengths teachers in office have, is that they can bring their perspective of education issues to other legislators who may not have experience in that area. She explains that many lawmakers enact policy that impacts people without fully understanding how it might affect their constituents personally. Teachers have experience working with people to understand their personal needs and to find common ground solutions. It is this kind of relational approach that enables teachers to be successful in the political arena.

According to Carrie Pugh, National Policy Director of the NEA, teachers thinking about getting involved in politics should take the plunge. “Most of them, they didn’t wake up or grow up thinking they were going to run for office. They experienced year after year of politicians making promises that weren’t getting the job done.” When asked what teachers should do if they are thinking about getting politically involved, Senator Buck emphatically encourages teachers to “just do it, because teachers should be part of the conversation.” If the past is prologue, then it is likely that more teachers will get involved in the political process, and perhaps join other educator notables such as Washington Senator Pat Murray, California Representative Mark Takano, and President Lyndon B. Johnson as they went from writing lesson plans to making laws.


Dr. Jeffrey Allen Hinton has been teaching U.S. History in Las Vegas, Nevada, for almost 20 years. He is a National Board-Certified Teacher with advanced degrees in curriculum and instruction and U.S. History. He is the 2014 Nevada Teacher of the Year and has advocated for education through his work as a Teach Plus and Public Education Fellow. Additionally, Jeff is his building representative for the Clark County Education Association. Jeff is a former Marine who enjoys blogging, playing the guitar, reading, mountain biking, and weight training. Jeff is married and has three wonderful daughters.



A Story to Tell: The Importance of Education during Incarceration as Told by 22 Men and Women Who Know Firsthand

Gerard Robinson, host of In Character, is the editor of a collection of 22 personal essays written by men and women with criminal convictions whose lives were significantly improved by educational opportunities available to them during incarceration—be it an individual course, a GED, a vocational education, or a postsecondary degree program. The authors describe their experiences with education programs in US states including Arkansas, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia.

Published by the Advanced Studies in Culture Foundation, A Story to Tell includes a foreword by Ryan S. Olson, Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Robinson wrote the introduction and conclusion. He observes:

Access to educational programming is a critical part of criminal justice reform. Each author shares real-world examples of such themes as tragedy, triumph, hope, love, violence, and forgiveness. They articulate the unique role that participation in an education program during incarceration—and the teachers, administrators, counselors, and case workers who manage it—played in her or his reinvention process, whether inside or beyond prison walls.

About the authors of the essays:

  • Fifty percent are men and fifty percent are women.
  • Forty-one percent arrived at prison or jail without a high school diploma or GED.
  • Forty-five percent used a Pell Grant to pay for vocational and postsecondary courses during incarceration—including two students who used a Pell Grant to pay for courses prior to the 1994 ban.
  • Fifty-five percent used public, personal, and/or philanthropic funds to pay for education courses.
  • Sixty-four percent are people of color.


Download and read the stories here for free.