DARRYL EPPS: I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in housing projects. In the early '80s and '90s, it was very violent. There was a lot of crime. And I was in and out of the juvenile justice system. I came into prison not believing or knowing if I would ever get out. I was filled with a lot of shame, a lot of guilt, a lot of remorse and regret.
JOSEPH MARGULIES: For any student, there is an inherent value in education, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of academic skills, intellectual skills, citizenship skills.
DARRYL EPPS: While I was incarcerated and having an opportunity to participate in the program, college programs in prison, I worked on developing better social skills, emotional skills, to cope with things. So I learned to shed a lot of the baggage. I learned to forgive myself. I learned to do a lot of deep self-interest faction and work on my flaws. And so while being in prison and participating in these classes, it was building my confidence.
JOSEPH MARGULIES: These guys lack some skills. But they are exceedingly bright. And when we develop those skills, they become capable of being extraordinary contributors to the rippling universe of people that they are connected to. They are better human beings. They are better fathers. They are better husbands and partners. They are better employees. And they're going to be on the outside.
95% of all prisoners come out at some point. So the only question is, do you want them better equipped to participate in all the levels in which society engages? Or do you want them less prepared? This is part of making them better at everything we ask a human being to do in society.
DARRYL EPPS: One of the reasons the program is so important, because they see you for who you are. You're a human being. And it feels good to be recognized as being a fellow human being, a fellow citizen, being normal.
When I came out of prison and I had all of these credits from Cornell University and the additional college credits that I had, it provided me with some academic credibility and moral credibility in my community and with my employers and my family.
When Ms. Patmore called me and said that she saw my application, I said, you know what? I'm just going to give my best. And though it said preferred bachelor's degree, preferred master's degree, and I had no degree, but close to 100 credits, I went in there, and they were impressed with that academic resume. They were impressed that I had letters of recommendation. And she believed that I could do the job.
What's your plans for the rest of the day?
SPEAKER: Not much, just do laundry.
DARRYL EPPS: Laundry. My ability to attend college in prison helped inspire my son to see himself as being college material. Classes start the 27th, right? And you're on four, right? Five?
SPEAKER: Because of an audit class. So I have to take an extra one.
DARRYL EPPS: Are you still thinking about pharmacy?
SPEAKER: I don't know. I just want to study a lot of different things first.
DARRYL EPPS: My point of view, you've got it good, because I'm trying to accomplish certain goals and obtaining a degree. And I'm 41. You're 19 years old. You can enjoy the full college experience. I've got to roll, later on.
Every day, I take every moment in. And I think about where I'm at now, because 10 years ago, I didn't see myself in this position. I didn't know if I would ever get out of prison. I didn't know there would be a place for me in society when I got out, or if I got out. And to be able to find employment, I don't take it for granted.
Sometimes people are like, you come all the way from Staten Island, that's a two-hour trek. I remember when I was in a yard, and I wished I could have moments like this.
JOSEPH MARGULIES: College education for folks in prison pays for itself in innumerable countless ways in the contribution that folks will make when they get out, the improbability of recidivism of future involvement with the criminal justice system. The literature is now abundantly well-established. In fact, it is a relatively cheap way to all but eliminate recidivism and make people vastly more productive when they get out.
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Darryl Epps is one of hundreds of men incarcerated in New York who have transformed themselves, their families and communities through the Cornell Prison Education Program, which brings college education behind bars.