There were smiles all around at the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco on August 8 as three students from Pitzer College’s Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program received diplomas and walked across the stage as newly minted graduates with bachelor’s degrees. The three men—Steven Jennings ’23, Pedro Rivera ’23, and Devin Rose ’23—all completed their degrees while serving their sentences at the rehabilitation center, which is Pitzer’s Inside-Out partner. They are all expected to be released next year.
The three were greeted enthusiastically by Pitzer College President Strom C. Thacker, Trustee Ruett Foster ’81, and Professor of Political Studies Nigel Boyle, who runs the Inside-Out program. Also present was Yusef Pierce, a 2021 Pitzer graduate through the program while still serving his prison sentence last year. He has since been released. CRC Warden Glen Pratt; Pitzer professors Barbara Junisbai and Jeffrey Lewis; and Isabelle Thacker, President Thacker’s spouse, were in attendance as well.
“Seeing these men earn their degrees, surmounting so many challenges along the way, shows us the power of education to transform lives, quite literally,” said Thacker. “I am immensely proud of our new alumni, and of the role that Pitzer College has played in providing them with this opportunity to turn their lives around.”
The three graduates credit their professors, who come from all five of The Claremont Colleges, and the nature of the Inside-Out model itself for their motivation and success. The program involves students from the College attending classes with the prisoners inside the rehabilitation center—which is the “out” part of Inside-Out—and gave the men a host of perspectives and knowledge they never would have had otherwise. The often vast differences in age, cultural backgrounds, and life experiences became a positive as the “inside” men learned from the “outside” students and found that they were all equal in the classroom.
“I felt like they were my kind of people,” said Jennings. “I had always been studious, and I could sense the opportunity that might exist for me while being alongside them. We were on the same team—there was no difference. They were very accepting of who we were, and were always willing to help out. Basically, it made me feel more human.”
“It’s about bringing the community inside these closed institutions, equally,” said Rivera. “Equality is a big thing. No one’s response is more important than the next person’s. We all respect each other in that space. Being with these professors and the outside students opened new doors for me. Until then I had been just coasting along.”
“The program allowed for reintegration before being reintegrated,” said Rose. “Studying with (outside students) made me realize that these were the kinds of people I want to associate with. I felt that we were equal—they were stars, and I could succeed, too. It also taught me social skills, and how to pivot.” Rose was chosen to deliver the graduation speech during the ceremony.
The graduates received their bachelor’s degrees in Organizational Studies, an interdisciplinary course of study that emphasizes how organizations operate, how they affect society, and how they change over time.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure watching these men grow during their college experience, and take advantage of all that we offered them,” said Boyle. “They are living proof of what we’re capable of, and I’m filled with pride about all that they were able to attain through the Inside-Out program.”
None of the men is resting on his laurels. All three plan to obtain a master’s degree, hopefully starting while they are still incarcerated. And they all seem intent on reciprocating and helping other imprisoned individuals to rebuild their lives.
“I definitely plan on getting my master’s,” said Jennings. “I’m still thinking about what direction to take, but a degree in social work seems like a good fit with the career I’d like to pursue.”
“I want to return to Pitzer,” said Rivera. “It’s my chance to give back for all they’ve given to me.”
“This program has given me a thirst for knowledge,” said Rose. “I don’t want to stop now.”
Boyle is optimistic about the path forward for these new graduates.
“I see a bright future for Steven, Pedro, and Devin,” he said. “They are determined to pursue professional careers in teaching and counseling that will serve other system-impacted individuals—people like their younger selves.”
Inside-Out has already graduated 16 men from the rehabilitation center with bachelor of arts degrees from Pitzer College. Nine more are expected to graduate in spring 2024.