Providing opportunities for students behind bars

Freed Minds began as a way for students who have been affected by incarceration to find community here on campus. As the group has evolved and grown, the mission has evolved to provide support, advocacy, identification and navigation of resources, and a community centered on the empowerment of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals through education.

The Freed Minds logo showing a line drawing with a mind with wings hovering over an open book with bars in the background.

Our members are working hard to ensure that we bring awareness to education and its impact on those affected by incarceration, both on campus and within our communities. To that end, we are excited to bring our event, “College Behind Bars: A Panel Discussion” to campus, on March 3, 2022 at 5 pm.

“College Behind Bars” is an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It tells the story of a small group of incarcerated men and women struggling to earn college degrees and turn their lives around in one of the most rigorous and effective prison education programs in the United States – the Bard Prison Initiative.

Shot over four years in maximum and medium security prisons in New York State, the film takes viewers on a stark and intimate journey into one of the most pressing issues of our time – our failure to provide meaningful rehabilitation for the over two million Americans living behind bars. Through the lived experiences of the students and their families, this is a groundbreaking story of incarceration, injustice, race in America, and the transformative power of education. It raises questions we urgently need to address: What is prison for? Who has access to educational opportunities? Who among us is capable of academic excellence? How can we have justice without redemption?

To bring this film to campus, the Freed Minds group joined up with PSU’s Higher Education in Prison Program, which provides PSU courses to students in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, allowing them to work toward a degree while experiencing incarceration positioning them to easily matriculate to the PSU campus upon release, while receiving the supports needed to be successful. We also got support from ASPSU Associated Students, ASPSU Legislative Affairs Committee, and the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion.

At the event, we’ll show a portion of the documentary and feature a panel discussion featuring the following special guests:

  • Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow
  • Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt
  • Tracie Hightower, Director of Education & Training, Oregon DOC
  • Dyjuan Tatro, BPI Alumnus
  • Rodney Spivey-Jones, BPI Alumnus
  • Lanelle Rowe, a student of the PSU Higher Education in Prison program

Our goal is to bring this event and the mission of our group to a wide audience. Those who are interested in attending either in-person at Smith or via a live Zoom can RSVP through the calendar link or by sending a “YES” RSVP via this online form.

Learn more about Freed Minds online or follow on Instagram @FreedMindspsu.

Two women reading books.
A still image from the College Behind Bars film.