Experts in autocracies have pointed out that it is, unfortunately, easy to slip into normalizing the tyrant, hence it is important to hang on to outrage. These incidents which seem to call for the efforts of the Greek Furies (Erinyes) to come and deal with them will, I hope, help with that. As a reminder, though no one really knows how many there were supposed to be, the three names we have are Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. These roughly translate as “unceasing,” “grudging,” and “vengeful destruction.”
Dr. Stanley Andrisse is an endocrinologist. He is also a professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He also holds an Assistant Professorship at Howard University College of Medicine. Somehow he also manages to find time to advocate for formerly incarcerated persons as the executive director of From Prison Cells to PhD, Inc. This organization helps formerly incarcerated people obtain higher education. Why does he do this? Because Dr. Andrisse himself was once incarcerated and lacking education. And he knows what a dead end that can be.
Dr. Andrisse hails from Ferguson, MO. He started selling drugs young. The first time he was arrested, he was 14. By age 17, he was moving a lot of drugs, both across Missouri, and throughout the United States. And he was a bright student. But school was not really his thing, even though he received a football scholarship to Lindenwood University. At that time he made an effort to get out of the drug business. But there were a lot of people in that business who very badly wanted him to stay in it. He did achieve a Bachelor’s degree (which he never got to use). But he didn’t view the experience the same way he views it now.
He now speaks passionately about the transforming power of education.
Education provides opportunities for people with criminal records to move beyond their experience with the penal system and reach their full potential. The more education a person has, the higher their income. Similarly, the more education a person has, the less likely they are to return to prison.
A 2013 analysis of several studies found that obtaining higher education reduced recidivism – the rate of returning to prison – by 43 percent and was four to five times less costly than re-incarcerating that person. The bottom line is education increases personal income and reduces crime.
While Dr. Andrisse was serving his sentence, something happened which, while tragic, gave him a goal and a purpose.
Due to complications of diabetes, my father had his legs amputated. He fell into a coma and lost his battle with Type 2 diabetes. I was devastated. This experience made me want to learn more about how to fight this disease. [emphasis mine]
He applied to six medical graduate programs while incarcerated, and was rejected by five. He credits a mentor on the Admissions Committee of the sixth (Saint Louis University) for his second chance. He graduated near the top of his class, vindicating himself and his mentor and possibly shaming the other five schools.
He has some strong ideas about how to change the system in order to make it easier for others to get the kind of second chance he got. One of those ideas has now come to fruition for students applying to college starting in 2019: The “Common Application,” an online form which enables students to apply to over 800 colleges (not every student to all of them of course), will no longer have questions about students’ criminal past.
But that is not all Dr. Andrisse wants to see happen. Due to the Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (and, yes, that was during a Democratic administration), which (among other things) removed Pell funding from prisons, a consequence was that the majority of institutions offering courses in prisons stopped cold. Most people serving time are not able to afford to take courses without financial aid ($1 per hour for fighting fires doesn’t go very far … and not that many people qualify for the firefighting program. And that’s probably the highest wage a prisoner can earn). The Obama administration established a Second Chance Pell pilot, which has helped over 12,000 people, and which is likely if not certain to be abolished at the end of 2018 by an “administration” which is far less interested in the possibility of saving government money by reducing recidivism than in punishing people. Dr. Andrisse would like to see that Second Chance Pell pilot kept and expanded.
Dr. Andrisse would also like to see questions about drug crimes removed from federal aid forms. So would I. I would also like to see a unicorn trip down from the sky on a rainbow and distribute delicious candy which is free from both sugar and artificial sweeteners. Under the current “administration” the one is probably as likely as the other. Which makes it incumbent on us (not trying to sound like a broken record, for those here who are old enough to remember records) to get out the VOTE in November and to VOTE BLUE NO MATTER WHO and also to VOTE THE WHOLE BALLOT.
Alecto, Megaera, Tisiphone, anyone smart enough to vote Democratic should also be smart enough to see that our country and our lives are determined not just by the people at the top but also by people in AL levels of government. Education has helped Dr. Andrisse come a long, long way. Please help us educate all Democrats and left-leaning voters how important ALL levels of government are … and how critical it is to VOTE.
The Furies and I will be back.
Cross posted to Care2 HERE.