A triumphant group of incarcerated students at a prison in California began a new chapter of their lives on Tuesday after graduating with their bachelor’s degrees.
The 25 students, who are incarcerated at California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC), celebrated their commencement ceremony in the prison yard, 70 miles away from the campus that made it possible. The new graduates were members of a program at California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA), in partnership with LAC, which allows incarcerated individuals to receive Bachelor of Communication degrees, the university said in a news release Thursday.
“Today, an education to me, means freedom, redemption, and opportunity,” Dara Yin, one of the graduates, said during his speech at the ceremony, according to the release. “The freedom to create better lives. A redeeming quality in the sense that we can step out of an identity that was destructive and into the person our mothers always meant for us to be. The opportunity to show that we are not our worst decisions,” Yin added.
Cal State LA’s Prison B.A. Graduation Initiative is California’s first in-person bachelor’s program conducted within the prison, according to the university. So far, 37 incarcerated students have graduated from the program, including 12 who had their sentences commuted and have been released. “Obtaining a higher education in a prison setting through a partner like Cal State LA is an opportunity for incarcerated people to have a true second chance,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Kathleen Allison said in the release. “There is no resource more powerful than an education, where people can gain new skills and learn new perspectives.”