Inmates in California prison can exit with a better chance of success due to first college behind bars

College education in prisons is a no-brainer.

Prison is supposed to serve two purposes: punishment and rehabilitation. But often prisoners emerge with the skills to be a better criminal and little knowledge on how to live an improved life. A prison in California is hoping to change the revolving door effect for some inmates by being the first to have a fully accredited junior college behind bars.

At Mount Tamalpais College at San Quentin State Prison inmates can earn an Associate of Arts degree by taking classes in literature, American government, astronomy and precalculus. The college was named after the mountain next to the prison and was accredited in January after a commission determined the extension program at the prison was providing a high-quality education. The college can accommodate up to 300 prisoners, and is currently full with another 200 on the waiting list.


San Quentin State Prison is broken up into different sections, including a section housing death row. It has offered rehabilitation programs to prepare inmates for a life outside of prison walls for some time. In the medium security part of the prison, inmates have dozens of educational, self-help and job-training opportunities that they can take advantage of. The positive programming available to inmates makes San Quentin a sought-after prison for prisoners across the state who want to utilize the time they must spend behind bars.

Derry Brown, 49, is currently serving a 20-year sentence for burglary and assault. He earned his GED in prison and is now attending the college program. Brown told ABC News that he takes pride in being a college student and may pursue a music career in his hometown of Los Angeles when he is released from prison next year. "There’s a joy in learning - that’s why I want to continue. Even when I get out, I’m going back to college,” he said.

The college is privately funded by donations and includes paid staff and volunteer faculty members, many of whom are graduate students from Stanford and the University of California Berkeley. The annual budget to run the college is $5 million. This isn’t the first program of its kind at the prison, though it is the first one to be fully accredited. In 1996, there was a program eventually titled Prison University Project that also offered associate degrees. President Jody Lewen started the process to have the college run fully autonomously three years ago after the previous university closed and the partnership ended.

Lewen told ABC News, “Very often in the field of higher ed, people will look at educational programs in prisons and they’ll say, ‘Well, that’s a program or project. It’s not a school.’ Our hope is that by being an independent, accredited, liberal arts college that operates in a prison we make it more difficult for people to overlook those inside and we help them imagine our students differently.”

The program is open to any general population prisoner with a GED or high school diploma, but excludes death row inmates.

Prison education is known to change the outcome of people’s lives when they are released, and this in turn can help change their families' lives and the generational course that may have been set before them. The hope is that the recidivism rate for lower level crimes would be reduced with former inmates now having a solid education and plan for the future.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Matthew McConaughey in 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey made a heartfelt plea for Americans to “do better” on Tuesday after a gunman murdered 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.

Uvalde is a small town of about 16,000 residents approximately 85 miles west of San Antonio. The actor grew up in Uvalde until he was 11 years old when his family moved to Longview, 430 miles away.

The suspected murderer, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was killed by law enforcement at the scene of the crime. Before the rampage, Ramos allegedly shot his grandmother after a disagreement.

“As you all are aware there was another mass shooting today, this time in my home town of Uvalde, Texas,” McConaughey wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “Once again, we have tragically proven that we are failing to be responsible for the rights our freedoms grant us.”

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Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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