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Inmates Find Hope in College Classes at San Quentin Prison

This is the VOA Special English Education Report, from http://voaspecialenglish.com | http://facebook.com/voalearningenglish Last week we told you about a program that trains women in prison to start their own businesses after their release. Today we tell you about one of the few prisons in America that offer college-level classes: San Quentin State Prison in California. Jody Lewen volunteered to teach in the college program at San Quentin in nineteen ninety-nine. She was a graduate student. The program had a small group of volunteers and no money. But a year later the director resigned. Ms. Lewen agreed to run the program until a permanent director could be found. "But once I started doing the work and got more deeply involved ... I started to think more and more about what this program could become."The Prison University Project seeks to prepare men to lead thoughtful and productive lives inside and outside of prison. Twenty courses are offered each semester. Classes offered this past semester included English, math, United States history, and Russian and Soviet history. Others included Asian-American theater, Spanish, biology, sociology, philosophy and criminal justice.Three hundred inmates take classes every semester. They earn credits toward an associate of arts degree in liberal arts from Patten University in Oakland, California. Ms. Lewen says getting teachers to volunteer is not difficult, although some are nervous about their first trip to San Quentin. She has recruited more than one hundred fifty volunteers, including graduate students from colleges and universities in the area. Charles Spence hopes to earn parole from prison one day. He needs a few more courses to receive his associate's degree, and he wants to earn a master's degree in psychology. He says, "This experience really has changed my life. It has given me a lot of tools on how to express myself. This program is really rare in the prison setting, so we are really lucky to have an opportunity to get an education, especially with the way the economy is out there now."More than one hundred prisoners have received an associate's degree. Many more have continued their college studies after their release. The project receives no state or federal money. It operates with donations from people and foundations. Jody Lewen wants to keep expanding the college program at San Quentin. There is a long waiting list of prisoners who want to take classes.For VOA Special English, I'm Mario Ritter. For more programs and activities for learning English, go to voaspecialenglish.com. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 07Jul2011)
Length: 04:03

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