Edward Sanders Proves the Necessity of Prison Education Programs

Edward Sanders Proves the Necessity of Prison Education Programs

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

“I made a mistake when I was 17 years old, and I recognize that someone lost their life. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I was there. There’s no snapping my finger and getting them to come back. I know what death means.” That was Edward Sanders’s powerful statement during a recent lecture at the University of Michigan. Sanders was a passenger during a drive-by shooting. As an accessory to the crime, he was handed a life sentence for first-degree murder. Forty-two years later, a Supreme Court ruling gave him a second chance. Now, at 60, the former lifer has plenty to say about prison education behind bars – and what needs to change.

Although he was a teen and nearly a legal adult when he was sentenced, at the time, at 17, Sanders had the equivalent of a grade-three education. Once behind bars, he decided to pursue higher education seriously.

However, it was not an easy path.

Inmates who were not serving life sentences were prioritized over lifers. To get into a class, Sanders had to wait and see if someone more qualified had dropped out or didn’t attend. When that happened, Sanders would swoop in and take the spot.

Despite the obstacles, Sanders worked hard at his education and eventually obtained a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and an associate degree in paralegal studies.

Being a lifer, however, continued to haunt his career aspirations. Convicted felons seldom obtain viable law careers, even after parole. Once again, Sanders looked at his options and chose the best path forward: working with his fellow inmates. After parole, however, his job search and qualifications earned him a spot at McDonald’s. He would later find work in an attorney’s office.

True to form, Sanders is not letting his time in prison or the limitations of being a paroled lifer slow him down. The paralegal strongly advocates for prison education and draws attention to the barriers that hold inmates back.

For example, he feels a ban on typewriters and offline computers for research in prison is counterproductive. During his lecture at the University of Michigan, he said, “Even though it’s called corrections, there is a bias to keep you illiterate, to keep you at a remedial level, and it takes a village to get former inmates back into society.” He also supports Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to ban a checkbox on job applications that would out former offenders as they apply for work.

Although it was a long and winding road filled with frustration after frustration and one roadblock after another, Sanders went from a third-grade education to obtaining two degrees. He used his training to become a “jailhouse lawyer,” helping his fellow inmates with their cases. Once released, his education enabled him to re-integrate back into society. Not only is he contributing to society, but he also works hard to bring attention to the necessity of education behind bars. He is living proof that prison education works – even for lifers.