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Oklahoma State University
STATE

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

First Person Prisoner

Behind Bars

Inmate continues his education in prison

A convicted felon told his first-person story to Evelyn Ferchau, Correspondence Education manager, to share how OSU is helping incarcerated individuals continue their education while in prison through independent study. His name has been withheld at his family’s request as he moves on with his life to become a contributing member of society. Correspondence Education provides yearlong OSU credit and non-credit courses to any learner worldwide whose work, family responsibilities, physical isolation or medical concerns may preclude participation in regularly scheduled class meetings. The department is also affiliated with the Center for Legal Studies and HealthEd Today certificate programs. For more information, visit ce.okstate.edu, email ics/inf@okstate.edu or call 405-744-6390.

Waking in the early hours of another endless day, I glanced around the small, sparse cubicle. Outside the tiny window, razor wire fencing surrounded the secured facility. I was perplexed about how I’d landed in this place. It hadn’t been in my life plan — as much of a plan as one has as a teenager — to find myself confined for six-and-a-half to eight years in federal prison.

But here I was, and here I’d stay until it was determined I’d “paid my debt to society.” The time weighed heavy on me, knowing I was facing a mandatory minimum of five years.

My arrest — and conviction — had been dramatic turning points in my life. Facing another day locked up, I wondered what was to become of me.

At first, my greatest fear was just being in jail. Then, after facing the inevitable, the fear became coming out of prison no different than when I entered. I knew I had to improve my body, soul and mind. Questions I asked myself up to this morning were, “Would this time be wasted? Could I see beyond my difficult circumstances?”

Family standard

In my family, everybody got a college degree. My grandparents encouraged educational goals. My father earned an MBA. My sister graduated with a degree in marketing and my older brother holds a degree in mechanical engineering. Education was deeply entrenched in my subconscious.

Growing up, I was small for my age and it made me feel bigger to go along with the crowd. Some questionable activities I managed to get involved with were inconsistent with the dream of a college education. My conscience bothered me but, as the years passed, I managed to silence the voices inside my head — telling me it was wrong. I rationalized the crimes with my own voice. I didn’t think I was hurting anyone else.

Unfortunately, the authorities didn’t agree, and at 19, I was locked inside a rural county jail — a tiny cell in the booking area with four solid walls — my only window in the door. For nine months, I was out of that cell for a total of one hour per day — usually in the middle of the night.

Reality hits

I was eventually transferred into a federal prison. I refused to limit my friendships to only those prisoners who might keep me safe in their special brotherhood. I wanted to be an “eagle” — a regular inmate. I told my worried parents that I could tough it out although “it was going to be a very lonely five years.” I knew what I did was wrong and I wanted to make the best of my situation.

In the prison yard, I broke through barriers and joined a softball team. For a while, I worked out in someone else’s exercise program and then started leading my own group. By the time I was 22, I’d grown four inches and gained 25 pounds.

I became an active member in the institution’s religious activities. Then I searched for correspondence courses that would help me work toward my degree. I could find only three university programs serving incarcerated individuals who didn’t have Internet access. Few courses were offered, and coursework from two colleges wouldn’t be transferable, not helping my goal of working on an eventual degree. Courses were difficult to find — but Oklahoma State University’s Correspondence Education fit my needs. OSU helped me accomplish my goals within the restrictions of being incarcerated.

Looking forward to tomorrow

Now that I’m approved for five months in a halfway house about an hour from my home, I’ll be able to attend school as well as possibly earn my way to home detention prior to my actual release date. My family is grateful for the good that’s come from this hard situation. They are all so appreciative of OSU for keeping me moving forward during this difficult time. I am thankful I found a distance-learning program through printed correspondence from a reputable and well-known university. 

 

Uploaded May 5, 2015