From state prison to state university

Spending any amount of time locked up in prison or jail can lead to trauma and isolation that can be disorientating. Many incarcerated individuals have found it difficult to integrate back into society and avoid slipping back into old habits. In order to combat this, a resource and job fair, was held at The Gathering Lutheran Church on Saturday in Long Beach.

Cal State Long Beach Rising Scholars was in attendance as they debuted their justice lab. Rising Scholars is a group of community members dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated individuals find their footing, specifically through the completion of their education.

“It’s a sensitive thing, there’s some risk, there’s judgements,” said James Binnall, faculty advisor for the Rising Scholars. “College feels like this big huge mystery that nobody knows about.”

Binnall is also the faculty advisor for the Long Beach chapter of Project Rebound, another criminal justice program founded in 1967 at San Francisco State University. Even though this chapter of Project Rebound has just been implemented, the hope is for it to team up with Rising Scholars. Together both programs will tackle issues using the statewide reach of Project Rebound.

Binnall, formerly incarcerated himself, chose to attend law school after his time behind bars.

“Going back [to college] was hard,” Binnall said. “I was really uncomfortable talking about my past.”

One important goal of Rising Scholars is to create a safe environment where members feel comfortable sharing their experiences with those who have been in their shoes.

To create this resource fair, the group worked closely with the Innovation Team, “i-team”, from the City of Long Beach. The team created the justice lab, a resource fair allowing participants to explore options for getting back on their feet in the hopes of curbing recidivism. Rising Scholars also used this education lab to promote the importance of education.

The Rising Scholars booth allowed individuals to fill out an application to attend the educational lab where student volunteers waited behind computers to help make the process as painless as possible. Participants were walked through the process of finding a school which best fits them, transferring previous transcripts or filling out Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“Education was my salvation,” said Adrian Vasquez, co-founder of Rising Scholars.

He is also a formerly incarcerated student in his last semester at Cal State Long Beach, with plans of applying to law school next fall. Vasquez stresses the importance of having a guide through this reform process.

“Navigating, and having someone encouraging you, someone believing in you, is so important,” Vasquez said. “It’s what Rising Scholars is about.”

There were sign up sheets for each participant at the church, parole officer and volunteer. The event included music while attendees were given hot dogs and water bottles.

Although meetings are held at the university, Rising Scholars is open to people of the community. It has current members from surrounding colleges, including Long Beach City College, California State Universities Northridge and Dominguez Hills.

Steven Tataje, senior and president of Alpha Pi Sigma, is a member of the Rising Scholars. He heard about the program through Binnall, and realized there wasn’t a lot of college support for formerly incarcerated student on a large scale.

“When I saw Rising Scholars, I thought it was a great opportunity to [help people],” Tataje said.

Binnall said the Rising Scholars hope to open the education lab up to the community at least once a month.

Rising Scholars’ next big event planned will be on April 23 and will include a presentation from actor Danny Trejo, with a panel to discuss the motivation for this program.

One Comment

  1. Great article. Well written.

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