The salutatorian cradled his 3-month-old niece for the first time. CLICK. The humble valedictorian instead of giving a well deserved speech handed out awards to the teachers that inspired them. CLICK. Two graduates reveled in this ceremony being their second graduation together for they also graduated high school together. CLICK.
There I stood, photographing the graduation ceremony of 20 students who marched to receive their dipolmas from Mercy College. Each man received his college education while serving his sentence within the walls of Sing Sing Correctional Facilities, a maximum security prison.
A 10-year-old girl scampered around wearing her father’s mortarboard. CLICK. One graduate revealed after spending his childhood in a harsh foster care system, the first friends he made were the other guys in his classes at prison. CLICK. One man kissed his mother’s giggling cheek and then his father’s chuckling cheek. CLICK.
Despite the mistakes these men made, each has taken ownership of his actions and consequently his life. Not one of them entered prison with the intention of getting an higher education. Yet that is what happened. And an avenue opened up for them to give back to the communities they will return to upon their release. And they will get released. 97% of men and women on the inside eventually leave. Nationally, 60% of them return to prison. Yet not one of the released Hudson Link grads have returned. Zero percent.
Proud parents salsa danced to the lively tunes from the band made up of inmates. CLICK. Chivalry reigned supreme when students let this female photographer go in front of them on the dessert line. CLICK. An exonerated man returned to the walls from which he was given his freedom to march with his fellow classmates. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
Admittedly, I never gave much thought to education in prisons, let alone thought it was an option for those who live in one. With the help of Hudson Link, these twenty men were given the chance to earn their redemption through higher education. The cliché holds true. Education opens doors. Even for those locked behind doors.