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Formerly Incarcerated Zoom Back to Prison for Degrees

When people like Maria Garza are released from the Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois, the staffers there don’t usually want to see them return. But in Garza’s case, they were willing to make an exception.

During her time there, Garza was enrolled in the Northwestern Prison Education Program, earning a bachelor’s degree. But since they didn’t want her release to interfere with her education, she was allowed to return to the classroom via Zoom. In her chemistry class, she’s the only one doing the experiments from home.

According to NPEP program director Jennifer Lackey, Maria was their first student to earn early release while in the program. The Illinois Department of Corrections says that most prison education programs like NPEP are so new that the directors have yet to figure out protocols for re-entry because so few of the inmates qualify for it.

One of the few other prison education programs that address re-entry is North Park University and Theological Seminary, which offers a master’s in Christian ministry through the Stateville Correctional Center. Program director Vickie Reddy says of the four students who have made re-entry during the program.

Garza is grateful to maintain the connection with her classmate. She said, “To me, it’s kind of like a comfort. There are people who would say that once they leave [prison] they detach themselves from everything. But it’s hard to detach yourself from the people that understand what you’re going through.”

Possible Preaching Angles:

1) Loving others; Loving the Unlovely - When we do our best to care for incarcerated people, we are demonstrating God's love for the lost and broken. 2) Perseverance; Overcoming – Through perseverance it is possible to overcome failure and achieve goals.

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