By Richard Johnson
U.S. Congress in December 2020 passed a Stimulus Bill, inside this Bill contained a provision to
Restores the Federal Pell Grant program for incarcerated inmates in county jails and prisons.
The Pell Grant was banned in 1994 by the Crime Bill, spearheaded by then Senator Joseph R.
Biden Jr. The “bill’s chief champion was Mr. Biden, who has since said that his support for it was
a mistake,” this mistake has dogged then President-elected Biden, because it was conected to
the mass incarceration of Black men. Now the incarcerated students can look forward in going
back to college classrooms, the new regulations today, allowing incarcerated students to once
agan to qualify for federal aid for college in the form of Pell Grant, began in July of 2023. This
news benefit all students who are seeking higher education degrees while in prison.
Recently Minnesota Department of Corrections at MCF-Stillwater started a Higher Education
pilot program in partnership with Metropolitan (Metro) State University and University of
Minnesota (UofM), with private funding, program is spearheaded by the New D.O.C. Assistant
Commissioner of Education and Higher Education, Daniel Karpowitz.
There was 40 students who started the program and only two drop out. The students really
enjoy the classes and the Professor who came in to teach. All the students did make the
Professors feel welcome to come inside MCF-Stillwater prison to teach. Then at end of the
spring semester 2022, there was 20 students who were placed on the Dean’s List for have a
GPA of 3.5 or higher for the semester. I was one of the students.
In the fall semester 2022, started the second year for the program, the program switch the
name from Higher Education at MCF-Stillwater to TREC: Transformation and Reentry Through
Education and Community at MCF-Stillwater. Everything is still the same except for there is now
a third school participating in the program, which is: Minneapolis Community and Technical
College (MCTC). With MCTC now joining TREC, they will bring their two year degree program to MCF-Stillwater. The new program concept does make it more better, more students can enroll with MCTC. When students complete their degree, the student must have overall GPA of 2.5 or higher before they can transfer into the four year program with Metro State. MCTC students can take classes from Metro State, this will give them a head start on their four year degree.
I will being GRADUATING from Metropolitan State University, with my Degree in Individualized
Studies, in the spring of 2023. I also earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Inver Hills
Community College in August 2017. I.H.C.C. two year degree program came to MCF-Stillwater in 2007, giving one or two classes per semester. There was outside private funding for the
Prior to the Pell Grant being fully restored, then President Obama, did start a Pilot program
called “Second Chance Pell” this allowed incarcerated students to become eligible for financial
aid for distance learning. In July 2018, the education director at MCF-Stillwater, put up notices
in all the cell blocks for the “Second Chance Pell” from Ashland University in the State of Ohio.
There was an information meeting with representative from Ashland, explaining what Degrees
they are offering and APDS Techs explain how the tablets works. I enrolled as a student with
Ashland, fall term 2018. But, I had to withdraw because of medical reason.
I interviewed two former MCF-Stillwater college students who both graduated and enrolled at
Ashland University in State of Ohio. The first interview is with David, he completed and received
his high school diploma while in prison. He then signed up for college program, which had
private funding in 1997. He did earned a two year Associate of Arts Degree. I asked him when
did he hear about the “Second Chance Pell” he seen the notice about the “Second Chance Pell”
at Ashland in 2018. He enrolled and apply for the Pell Grant. He graduated in 2020 with “BA” in
Communication with a minor in Religion. He wants to continue on with his education by taking
more college courses, he has a few semesters left of Pell Grant. He also enjoys taken classes
because the professors are very knowledgeable at what they teach.
The second interview is with Mike, he’s a former MCF-Stillwater college student who
graduated. I asked Mike, when did he hear about the Second Chance Pell. He seen the notice
about Second Chance Pell at Ashland University in State of Ohio. He enroll, apply for the Pell
Grant. He graduated with an “A.A.S Degree” Associate of Arts Degree, and “BA” Degree in
Communication Study, he earned an Master Degree in MDIV 2012. He did enjoy listening to the
professors give their lectures, and that’s what he misses the most from his college day’s here at
Both David and Mike, would highly recommend the prison college program to any prisoners
who wants to listen, both David and Mike will sit down and talk about their college experience,
how it felt to receive their College Degree. If any prisoners want to try the college program,
David and Mike will explain the process to apply for college and Pell Grant, which pays for
tuition and textbooks.
There are so many reasons why incarcerated prisoners won’t give college a chance. When I did
talk with one prisoner about going to college, he comes back with I HAVE MY GED. I will always
talk to any prisoner about given college a try. If, prisoner signs up for college, he becomes a
student. I really do hope that any young junior or senior high school students in the free world
who is reads this story, I hope they will never want to come to prison, instead I hope they will
look at all the options that college programs have to offer them, then complete and earn their
two year College degree or a four year University degree.