How One Man Is Trying to Help People in Prison

How One Man Is Trying to Help People in Prison

Stephanie Cortes
 | 
LawChamps recognizes the demand for access-to-justice and is partnering with dedicated social justice organizations, highlighting their efforts, and sharing opportunities to get involved. Here is one of our favorite partners. 

Who is Dr. Renford Reese?

Dr. Renford Reese, a social justice pioneer and transformational leader in criminal justice, spoke to LawChamps about the important work his organizations are doing including volunteer opportunities to participate.

He is the Founder and Director of  Prison Education Project (PEP) and the Reintegration Academy. Dr. Reese is a professor at Cal Poly Pomona lecturing students on NGO’s, Prison Reform, Restorative Justice, and Politics of Crime. 

Dr. Reese lives by the African philosophy of “Inbutu” which means “when my neighbor is hungry I feed him, when I’m hungry they feed me. It is a community of brotherhood and sisterhood.” He encourages his students follow this ethical code, empathize, and address racial inequality in marginalized communities.  

What Dr. Reese is Trying to Do

In Dr. Reese’s documentary, Prison Race, he states that, “Over the past 3 decades there has been a race to incarcerate the United States. African American’s have been overwhelmingly impacted by unfair and unjust criminal-justice policies.” 

In his film, Is America a Myth?, he states, “Two factor generally explain these scenarios: capitalistic exploitation and racism.” He states, “I see everyone talking about the problem, but few want to get into the trenches and provide solutions.”

According to the Prison Education Program website, it states that “For every percentage point that we reduce recidivism, we save the state approximately $89.4 million. The annual cost of housing an inmate in California is $75,560, which is now more than the cost of tuition at Harvard (see report). A study funded by the U.S. Justice Department found that prison education reduced recidivism by 43% (see report).

His initiatives support both inmates inside the prison and provide resources to parolees reintegrating back into society while working to eliminate the juvenile prison pipeline that exist today. The programs are an opportunity for volunteers to solve problems within their local communities. They mirror Martin Luther King’s philosophy of a “beloved community that is non-judgmental and non-discriminatory.”

He states that revolution and transformation can be acquired through:
  • Changing our system
  • Changing our organizations
  • Changing the way we treat each other
  • Mentorship
  • Embracing our community
 
Dr. Reese's projects:

Prison Education Project (PEP): The objective of the program is to expose inmates to a variety of disciplines and majors and create a “prison-to-school pipeline” where in-custody students are provided with tools necessary to function as productive citizens.



“Prison Education Project is one of the largest volunteer-based prison education program of its kind in the state. We recruit student volunteers from partnered universities to teach courses in 14 California prison facilities. Students tutor in GED math and literacy and provide academic presentations about their majors. Graduate students and community volunteers provide career development and wellness workshops.” 

For more information, visit the Prsion Education Project’s website.

Reintegration Academy: The objective of the program is to create a prison-to-school pipeline” and support formerly incarcerated parolees reintegrate into society. 



The program invites 40 parolees to the college campus for period of 8 weeks where they attend classes, 1 day in the week from 5-9:30 pm. They are exposed to academic development, life skills, and career development. 

Participants are provided with:
  • A meal card to eat on campus the first day in the program
  • A visa card to buy clothes
  • A free laptop to enroll in community college. 
  • Assistance with signing up for financial aid that provides them with a $5,550 pell grant for classes
  • Opportunities to network and interview for employment  

Due to COVID-19, the program is now providing virtual sessions.

Dr. Reese’s recent documentary on racial injustice in the United States:

In Dr. Reese’s new documentary, Is America a Myth?, he explains that he cultivated a relationship with Rodney King in the late 1990s and considered himself his mentor. He further explains that it was George Holiday’s video tape of the brutality Rodney experienced that revolutionized how we view law enforcement. The transformational recording was not just for African Americans to see because they already knew this was going on, rather for the world to see.

“We are now 28 years removed from Rodney King. We’ve just experienced something that is absolutely horrible and brutal. What we have seen with George Floyd galvanized a new generation of activist. 

The question is: have things changed?

My response to that question is the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. I am talking about the illusion of change. 

This is a pivotal moment in American history when we need to have the courage and moral compass to do the right thing. When we begin to understand and empathized with those who are being victimized, I think that’s when our mindset, behavior, and policies begin to change.”  

How you can support Dr. Reese:

 
  • The Prison Education Project  aims to provide educational classes in prison facilities of each state within the United States. Reach out to PEP’s coordinators for ways to partner in your state.
  • Support the Reinegration Academy by providing a classroom space on a college campus for five days a week to teach 3 classes virtually per week at no cost.
  • Colleges are generally within a 30-mile radius of the majority of the California’s  34 prisons. Reach out to PEP and the Reintegration Academy to collaborate and assist the CDCR in its mission of rehabilitation.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • For the Prison Education Project, email PEPOutlook@gmail.com.
  • For the Reintegration Academy, contact Program Coordinator, Tyee Griffith via email: Tyee720@yaoo.com.
  • Support Dr. Reese’s initiatives by sharing the information with others.
  • You may visit Dr. Reese’s website for publications and films on his access-to-justice efforts.
  • Follow social media pages: 
  • Instagram: @Prisoneducationproject, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
Stephanie Cortes

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