A Historic First for the Center for Prison Education

A Historic First for the Center for Prison Education

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

It started as the Cheshire Reformatory in 1909. The goal of the Reformatory was to keep male prisoners aged 16-24 out of the adult prison population. The Reformatory evolved over the years, and now it’s Connecticut’s Cheshire Correctional Institution, where male adult offenders carry out long sentences.

It’s a level four facility with protective custody and restrictive housing. There’s a fair bit of history in the 25-acre complex, too. It’s been said that the cells of the north block were repurposed from New York’s famous Sing Sing prison.

That’s not the only historical aspect of intuition. This year marked an exciting Center of Prison Education (CPE) milestone. For the first time, incarcerated offenders doing time in maximum security graduated from a prison education program with associate degrees. Cheshire Correction Intuition hosted the grad.

Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education and Middlesex Community College collaborated to offer university courses to inmates in the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Students from Wesleyan volunteer to help the inmates in study halls at the prison or on the school campus by providing research and project assistance. No slack is given to the inmates; they are expected to study and complete assignments like they were on the Wesleyan campus.

The first graduating class from Cheshire Correctional Intuition smiled proudly on August 1, 2018, as Pomp and Circumstance played. They wore graduation gowns and mortarboards. Family members were there for support. Even though it took place in a maximum-security prison, the ceremony impacted the grads and the guests as any other graduation.

One of the speakers at the event was Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78. Roth had been a college president for 18 years and was well-versed in commencement speeches. He usually read from a script, but this time, he said, “Walking into Cheshire today, seeing the graduates—there is no script. You are making history of the best kind that allows others to build on your accomplishments. We thank those students, faculty, and staff at Wesleyan who envisioned this day, who saw that incarceration should not be the end of the line but an opportunity to change your lives.”

Several graduates also spoke during the ceremony, noting education’s positive impact on their lives. Inmate and graduate James Davis III said, “Wesleyan introduced me to a new kind of judgment. In CPE, we’re being judged, but with our permission…. We thank everyone who judge us as we are, not as we were.”

The Center for Prison Education has been in operation since 2009. Its mandate is to extend Wesleyan’s campus courses into Connecticut prisons to help create “scholars and citizens who will be assets to their families and communities before and after release.”

From launching in 2009 to the first graduates with associate degrees in 2018, it’s been a long and winding road; for the inmates, professors, volunteers, and everyone involved, it’s been a road worth traveling.