Becoming a Student After Prison

Going to prison is not and should not be a death knell for personal growth and achievement. If you or someone you know has paid your debt to society and want to move forward in your education, there are avenues available to get you on the right path.

Set your sights on the horizon

The first and most essential step in furthering your education after incarceration is having a plan in place. According to “Back to School: A Guide to Continuing Your Education After Prison,” a reentry guide funded by the U.S. Department of Education and published by the Prisoner Reentry Institute at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, every journey begins with setting goals. If you have a specific focus or career in mind, you need to first determine whether your criminal record could prohibit you from transitioning into a desired job.

You also need to set goals for your education based on your skill level. “Back to School” recommends starting by getting assessed to determine whether you have a learning difference or learning disability. Conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and dyscalculia are common and may make it difficult to learn. It’s important to know that many successful people have overcome such conditions to achieve great success, and that testing and educational conditions can be changed to accommodate any learning difference you may have.

Have your documents in order

Whether you plan to earn your General Educational Development certificate or apply to a university, you’ll need to have several essential documents handy to proceed. Per “Back to School,” these will include your social security card, birth certificate, state identification or driver’s license, GED certificate or high school diploma, transcripts from your most recently attended educational institution, letters of reference, resume and a copy of your criminal record. Obtaining some of these documents will carry a fee, but “Back to School” notes that you might be able to get those fees waived if you fall under a certain income threshold.

Get help when you need it

One of the greatest concerns facing university-level students of all backgrounds is the cost of tuition. According to the U.S. Department of Education, you will be eligible for federal student aid depending on your circumstances and the nature of your offense. In most cases, you’ll be eligible for financial aid if you are on probation, parole or living in a halfway house; you may be excluded if you were convicted for possession or sale of illegal drugs or a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense.

Apart from financial support, it’s important to remember that you have resources within and beyond your community to help get you back on the right track. “Back to School” suggests leveraging your public library for any internet-based needs as well as necessary forms and resources; your nearest One-Stop Career Center; and resources like your correctional facility’s educational department, community-based reentry programs and local self-help and religious organizations.

Continuing your reformation and rehabilitation after release through education is a means to a better life. With the right mindset and the right help, you can get yourself on course to better days ahead.

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