Over the course of 3 days, brilliant ideas, unique stories, and diverse perspectives broke down boundaries between and within the criminal justice system.
Erich Kussman dropped out of school when he was 14. Not knowing his father and with a mother addicted to drugs, he spent most of his childhood on the street, armed, selling drugs, and trying to survive. His teenage years were marked by frequent arrests and brief periods of freedom. In 2004, Kussman was involved in a robbery and sentenced to 12 years at the Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility, a prision in New Jersey (United States). Today, at 37, Kussman is married, a stepfather of two and a master’s student at Princeton Theological Seminary. His path from the world of crime to the university started behind bars, with the help of local college students, most of whom grew up with more opportunities than he had.
By Kathleen Bender
Education can be a gateway to social and economic mobility. This vital opportunity, however, is currently being denied to a significant portion of the more than 2.3 million individuals currently incarcerated in the United States. Compared with 18 percent of the general population, approximately 41 percent of incarcerated individuals do not hold a high school diploma. Similarly, while 48 percent of general population has received any postsecondary or college education, only 24 percent of people in federal prisons have received the same level of education.
By Theresa Agovino
The first time James Farrin became interested in the prison system was in 1958, when he was a Princeton University senior writing a thesis. The second time was long past his undergraduate days, but the outcome is changing lives and shedding new light on America’s criminal justice system.
By Jim Farrin
Amy Lopez isn’t the highest-profile official to be fired by the Trump administration, but she deserves some attention. The Obama administration had tapped Ms. Lopez after last November’s election to build a semiautonomous school district within the Bureau of Prisons. Her program was to offer literacy training, high-school diplomas, postsecondary classes, and more options for prisoners with learning disabilities.
Early on in his sales and marketing career, Jim Farrin threw himself into extremely challenging business situations, promising, and then implementing, effective solutions in what seemed to others like impossibly short time frames.
At his third international position, as managing director for a Chesebrough-Pond’s facility, he encountered his most difficult assignment — trying to turn around a French subsidiary where the previous five managing directors had been fired in less than two years. But his solution, which was unusual, taught him something about the value and satisfaction of helping others grow.
“I took the enormous risk of firing all the directors — my diagnosis was that they were playing the game of fire the general manager and we continue to stay here and get our raises,” Farrin says.
Since he was a child, Princeton University senior Dayton Martindale has loved science. So much so that after he receives his bachelor's degree in astrophysical sciences this year, he doesn't want to be a scientist.
He wants to be the person scientists need to help bring their research before the public. Martindale wants to help the average person understand the importance and influence of the work that occurs in the laboratories they'll never see, and that comes out of the fields they'll never study. He wants to be a science writer.
"What got me into science in the first place were Stephen Hawking books, and Neil deGrasse Tyson on television, and museum exhibits," said Martindale, who will begin the master's program in science and environmental journalism at the University of California-Berkeley in the fall. "I realized that if presenting science to the public is what I'm more excited about, why not do that?"
Prison reform is no easy matter. Prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. When it comes to education, described by Cornel West as “probably the best thing we can do for people who are in prison,” resources are scarce.
But one program, founded here in Princeton, the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, is tackling some of the problems head on, one inmate at a time, with the help of Princeton University (PU) students who tutor prisoners to gain their GEDs and high school diplomas.
“You don’t have to go as far as Africa or to the Middle East to give back,” the program’s executive director Jim Farrin routinely tells participating students. “You can go 35 miles away to a prison where people are in desperate need of contact and further education.”
Maybe it’s just the New Jersey weather or the tint of the van’s windows but it seems like it’s always foggy when I drive to Garden State, a sprawling correctional complex whose hallways I’ve walked through without ever really managing to glean the building’s external shape. We always drive towards it from the same side. Inside the hallways shoot off from rounded enclosure where the guards sit like identical grayish-beige spokes from a wheel. Sometimes it’s hard to find my way out because everything looks the same.
It’s hard to explain how it feels inside the building. The light is watery and you can feel yourself moving—the air smells thin but feels heavy, a little like being on a long, long flight. The feeling of restlessness is like being on a plane too. I don’t think many of the people here have ever been on an airplane but I’m not supposed to ask them questions about things like that. I’m not supposed to ask them questions about anything. Before I came here I signed paperwork indicating my awareness that I was entering into a dangerous place with dangerous people but mostly I just feel guilty that I can never explain why I can’t look them in the eye or that I think it’s terribly wrong that most of them are there, that they have been disappointed and betrayed by things beyond their control. It is hard not to feel this way when I am teaching a twenty-eight year old man how to read numbers written in words and turn them into numbers. Fifty-four thousand, six hundred and seventy two. He writes 50, pauses, looks at his hands. Looks up apologetically. I tell him to pay attention to where the commas fall in the words and realize in the blankness of the stare he gives me that he does not know what a comma is.