ARC ON CAMPUS:

members DISCUSS pursuing college after incarceration

Four ARC members working towards their undergraduate degrees share elements of their journeys
to higher education
and offer advice to currently and formerly incarcerated individuals considering college.

 
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HOWARD CHUNG

Intern at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC)
Incarcerated 2 Years in the Juvenile and Adult Prison Systems
Senior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 
Majoring in Religion

What did you think college life would be like before you stepped on campus? 

"I dropped out of high school and never had any real reference point to imagine what college life would be like. I had an end goal and college was a necessary part of the formula to accomplish my plan, so it didn’t matter if college was going to be hard, easy, fun, boring. I was committed to the process."

Given that you have now taken college classes on the outside, what advice would you give to those men and women who hope to pursue higher education when they come home? 

"My best advice to incarcerated men and women who hope to pursue higher education when they come home, is do not compare your benchmarks and milestones in life to others. If you’ve been incarcerated, you have a unique wisdom and a drive to succeed that a lot of other folks don’t have. That skill naturally kicks in when times get tough – and have no doubt, times will get tough. But with the right support system and patience to do things right, you’ll succeed. You just have to put in the work."

 

 
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JOSE GONZALEZ

Inside Coordinator at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC)
Incarcerated 20 Years in State Prison
Senior at California State University, Los Angeles

Majoring in Psychology & Political Science

What did you think college life would be like before you stepped on campus? 

“Before stepping on campus, I thought college life was like the movies. I didn’t take into consideration how hard it would be. Certainly much harder than I expected. There’s work, traveling, friends, family -- so many distractions. And school outside of prison is on a whole different level. It’s a lot of work, but so rewarding in the end."

Given that you have now taken college classes on the outside, what advice would you give to those men and women who hope to pursue higher education when they come home?

"My best advice for men and women hoping to pursue higher education when they come home is learn to delegate your time. Prepare now, take as many classes in prison as possible. Push yourself. Take more classes now so you get into that mode of pushing yourself."

 
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KENT MENDOZA

Community and Member Relations Coordinator at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC)
Incarcerated Five Years in the Juvenile Justice System
Sophmore at East Los Angeles College
Majoring in Political Science and Business

What led you to further your education while incarcerated?

 "I started going to school when I was first incarcerated. But once I graduated from high school, I couldn't go any further. From the age of 17 to 20, I couldn’t advance in school because of my immigration status. Instead, I filled my time reading books and self-educating. I knew education was the only way to succeed in life. I feel like everyone deserves that chance for education – no one should be excluded. Nevertheless, I didn’t let my circumstances hold me back and I took it upon myself to learn all that I could. So I hit the books, and that really helped me once I got out and into college because I was ready."

 
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ADRIAN VASQUEZ

Job Developer at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC)
Incarcerated 20 Years in State Prison
Junior at California State University, Long Beach
Majoring in Sociology, Minoring in Finance

What lead you to further your education while incarcerated?

"I saw education as a way for me to escape the reality of prison -- it was a way for me to expand my mind. And I understood that in order for me to go home, I had to take higher learning and show the Board of Parole Hearings that I was in the process of changing. It was difficult because I didn’t start college until my tenth year of incarceration. Prior to that, I didn’t even know that college was offered until I was transferred to Folsom State Prison. At the time, it was a Level Three prison – I was surprised to learn that people were going to college. I thought the program would be for youthful offenders. Then I was transferred to a different institution where no education was offered. Out of 1,000 people on the yard, there were only about 15 going to college. We had difficulties getting books, getting proctors. I did as much as I could until I was transferred again."

Given that you have now taken college classes on the outside, what advice would you give to those men and women who hope to pursue higher education when they come home? 

"One piece of advice I would give to incarcerated men and women who hope to pursue their education when they come home is be ready. Out here, it’s not the same as sitting in a cell doing your homework. It’s totally different. It’s more demanding, more challenging. But you have more access to resources. Keep an open mind. In there, take your golden four – Math, English, Philosophy and Speech. Knock those out, don’t avoid them, and keep pushing. Get the highest GPA you can in there. Your GPA counts – it’s what helped me get into a four-year university."


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