Nov 5, 2013 By Chris Wolf, Penobscot Bay Pilot –
WARREN — With Pomp and Circumstance, 13 individuals proudly received associate’s and bachelor’s degrees Nov. 4 the Maine State Prison in Warren. Of them, 12 graduated with honors. This was the prison’s third graduating class.
“It’s always so moving,” said Deborah Meehan, director of University College at Rockland. “It’s humanity at its finest. Pride is not something you feel in the prison very often, but this is a proud moment. It is a huge success, I don’t know of a single graduate who has come back in, so it’s tremendous. Next summer we’ll be enrolling about 40 people.”
Together with the Class of 2011 and 2009, there are now 35 men who have pursued and received college degrees while incarcerated at the prison.
Joesph Billings Rouleau was the Baccalaureate Recipient and Brandon Sobosie Brown was the Associate Recipient.
Doris Buffett, who is the founder of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, was present to watch the graduation ceremony. The foundation has helped further the mission of higher education in the Maine prison system. Penobscot Bay Pilot briefly spoke with her.
Maine was your first try at helping people get an education?
“Yes it was. I had stopped at Sing Sing, I was headed for Maine because I had lived here a lot of the time, and I went to their graduation and I was struck dumb. I had never seen anything like it. I had never heard the march that everyone marches with played on a clarinet and a drum. So, I came here. I thought we could do this in Maine and it took about a year to organize. It’s been nothing but a joy; I mean how can you not be moved?”
How many prisons are in the foundation now?
“I’m not sure, 19, or 20 and they’re all doing well. Some of them are in Washington and California and I can’t get to all of them. I live in Virginia and I visit the one up here whenever I can.”
Watching you during graduation it looked like this one was just as special as the first one.
“It sure is. It’s a joy. I don’t think that people understand, because if they did understand it then they would be doing a lot more of it. I know it’s real. I get so embarrassed when they say I want to thank Doris. I think can I crawl under anything here, but they are really fine men. I wouldn’t mind having some of them as my sons.
“A fool who decides to educate himself, may get a degree, may graduate with honors, but if he doesn’t decide to change his thinking and his action, he’s just a fool with an education,” said degree recipient Victor E. Loveitt. “My promise to you, Doris Buffett, to the faculty and my family, is that I will strive to be better than a fool with an education.”
Steven M. Clark, who received an associates degree in liberal studies, commented on the recidivism rate of inmates in Maine. Quoting Sean Pica, who works within the prison system in New York and was an invited speaker during the semester, he said: “If Route1 had a 70 percent fatality rate don’t you think they would shut Route 1 down? In Maine, we have a 70 percent recidivism rate. It’s incredible. One thing that I have noticed with this program is that not one man who has graduated and left has ever come back.”
Those receiving an associate of arts in liberal studies were Jerry James Banks, Brandon Sobosie Brown, Steven M. Clark, Jon James Dow, Sergio Stephen Haitston, Robert Alan Payzant, Daniel P Roberts and Dale Allen Wood.
Those receiving a bachelor of arts in liberal studies were Jon Brent Dyer, Edwin Devaughn Keys, Victor E. Loveitt, Joseph Billings Rouleau and Christopher David Shumway.
Link to the original article and pictures here.