Stories From Main Street: Non-Profit Offers College Education To Sing Sing Prisoners
DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A local college is featured in a documentary premiering on HBO Monday evening.
As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported, Mercy College lives up to its name.
“I never considered myself as college material,” Sean Pica said.
He runs a unique degree program called Hudson Link for Higher Education. The privately funded non-profit organization offers college courses to inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
“In 1986, I shot my friend’s father and when I went to prison, I had only gone through the ninth grade,” Pica said. “I thought my life was over. I’m sitting in the cell block, I’m 16 years old, I have to serve 24 years. I couldn’t grasp it mentally.”
He served 16 years in prison for murder, during which he earned a degree from Nyack College. He and former inmate John Conyers dedicate themselves to helping other prisoners along the road to rehabilitation.
“Gave me a whole lot of hope because I knew I was thinking not what’s going to happen within the next few years while I was in prison, but I was thinking way beyond the walls, thinking about how I was gonna reintegrate myself,” Conyers told Adams.
After serving 20 years at Sing Sing for robbery and attempted murder, Conyers now owns his own drug testing company.
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Through the organization, Mercy College professors visit Sing Sing to educate inmates.
“They’re very respectful, they’re very appreciative. I think one of the really good things about our program is that it’s privately funded. It’s not an entitlement and the men understand that someone on the outside believes in them,” English Professor Jo Ann Skousen told Adams. “I love what one man said about it. He said ‘I have to honor the life that I took.’ And he wants to do that by making something of his life.”
Pica said the numbers show that Hudson Link works.
“We’ve had a less than 2 percent recidivism rate. According to the national statistic, 43 percent of the men and women that are incarcerated in this country will return to prison in the first three years,” he told Adams.
In 14 years, Hudson Link has had 233 graduates.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed offering associate’s and bachelor’s degree education at 10 prisons in an effort to reduce recidivism.
The 40-minute documentary, “The University of Sing Sing,” airs Monday at 9:45 p.m. with future airings planned.
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