The Importance of Pell Grants in Prison
When Carai was a child, he thought as a child, played and dreamed as a child. Now that he's an adult, he's put away his childhood dreams. And with the support of a Pell Grant, he's embracing a second chance for a new future.
"When I was younger, I was only good in athletics," he remembers. "As I got older and discovered a love for reading, I wanted to be an international business lawyer. I wanted to study history or philosophy and then go to law school."
However, one night in 2016 proved to be a tragic detour in Carai’s path. After bad choices led to a fatal car crash, he was sent to prison to begin a 30-year DUI sentence.
Valerie watched her son slide into a dark place after entering prison. "In the first couple of years, he was feeling hopeless," she recalls.
With such a long bid ahead of him, Carai needed a way into the bright future he once dreamed of. But how?
"I didn't come to prison with the reserve of funds to pay my way through school, and I [had] no way to work for them in here," he says.
But the Pell Grant changed all that.
"My experience with the Pell Grant program has been amazing, one could almost say lifesaving," Carai says, because he's " … able to further my education, build skills to help me succeed in the future, and [it's] giving me something to strive for, gives my life a sense of purpose."
IN-PRISON EDUCATION: A SECOND-CHANCE CHOICE
Carai enrolled in online classes at the University of Alabama through a Second Chance Pell Grant pilot. He went from feeling "like [I had] been thrown in a black hole," he says, to living with a vibrant new hope.
Despite his incarceration, Carai is embracing higher education to unlock his future and uncover his capacity to make the most of his potential. With the second chance the Pell Grant affords him, Carai is mapping his journey beyond the prison walls one day.
"Pell is helping me to become the person that my family deserves and that I want to be … ," Carai says. "My family thinks it's great. They know how much hard work it takes and are very supportive of this decision. They know that me furthering my education will have a profound effect on my life."
Carai's story illustrates that, despite their past choices, access to higher education through Pell Grants affords prisoners the opportunity to pursue their God-given potential. The funding permits them to invest in their futures and prepare to make positive contributions to their families and communities. As Carai and his mother acknowledge, Pell Grants can't change a person’s past. But they can dramatically change the person coming home.
"We can't just keep incarcerating people without giving them something that they can become constructive members of the society, and education is [the basis] of that," Valerie says.
"I've met [people] who are currently incarcerated now, who don't even have the basics of education. Pell Grants could help … fill in some gaps in society," she adds. "We've put a lot of money in incarcerating someone. How about let's put a little bit of money into giving them a second chance."
UNLOCK SECOND CHANCES
For many incarcerated men and women, a positive path forward is to pursue education while behind bars. Through education, prisoners develop skills they need to thrive as good citizens and have a chance to make amends to victims and their communities.
Thankfully, Carai was able to access higher education through a Second Chance Pell Experimental Site, but this option is not available to most men and women in prison. An amendment to the 1994 Crime Bill made incarcerated students ineligible for Pell Grants, which led to an abrupt, dramatic decline of post-secondary education offerings in American prisons. Today, the incarcerated students accepted at one of the Department of Education's Second Chance Experimental Sites are the only prisoners with access to Pell Grants.
You can get involved. Prison Fellowship is urging lawmakers to lift the ban on Pell Grants for all students behind bars—in state and federal prisons—regardless of the type of offense that brought them to prison. Use our helpful tool to contact your federal representatives and senators and advocate that they cosponsor the REAL Act, a current bill that would lift the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students. As Congress debates the next phase of its response to COVID-19, your voice will encourage them to consider Pell restoration for incarcerated students as a tool for developing our workforce and better preparing men and women behind bars for a return home made even more challenging by this pandemic.
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