When Kenneth Butler ’22 was released in 2021 after 15 years of incarceration, he was on his way to a bachelor’s degree from Pitzer College. However, he didn’t yet know how to rebuild his place in the community and start his career.
Butler turned to the Reintegration Academy, an eight-week program that teaches formerly incarcerated individuals about life skills, career development, and vocational education. This was where he first connected with his mentor Renford Reese, a Cal Poly Pomona professor and the founder of the academy and the Prison Education Project (PEP). Now, Butler is helping Reese to expand the academy in Uganda as part of his Fulbright.
Winning a Fulbright
From earning an associate’s degree at Norco Community College to advocating for Pitzer’s Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program, Butler has constantly broke ground in his education. Then, in spring 2022, he became the first formerly incarcerated Pitzer student to win a Fulbright. He decided to use it to conduct research in Uganda.
Butler planned for his Fulbright research to explore how the educational, athletic, and social networks inside Luzira Upper Prison help men reintegrate into society. Butler wanted to examine why the under-resourced Ugandan prison system has a lower recidivism rate than the U.S.
Two partners Butler chose for his Fulbright were Professor Arthur Sserwanga at the Makerere University Business School and Anatoli Biryomumaisho, who directs education and vocational skills training for the Ugandan prison system. When Butler won the fellowship, he joined Reese, Sserwanga, and Biryomumaisho to collaborate on a Reintegration Academy pilot program in Uganda this fall—which was also part of Butler’s Fulbright proposal.
“There is a lack of job opportunities in Uganda, so we are introducing entrepreneurship training,” said Butler. “The hope is to have them create a business that will provide jobs for the formerly incarcerated.”
The Reintegration Academy has partnered with Makerere University Business School’s Entrepreneurship Innovation Incubation Center to help participants build business plans and get a loan.
Mentoring others in prison education
Butler also serves as an instructor for another program that he participated in as a student: PEP, which creates a “Prison-to-School Pipeline” for incarcerated students. PEP and the Reintegration Academy in the U.S. both have longstanding partnerships with Pitzer.
“I have a class with a juvenile hall about how to facilitate healthy relationships,” said Butler. “I love being a mentor and sharing my lived experience with the youth.”
Incarcerated individuals are not the only ones Butler is supporting. He works remotely with Temple University as an Inside-Out coach for professors who are teaching inside prisons. Temple University’s program, which was the template for Pitzer’s Inside-Out classes, brings “inside” incarcerated students and “outside” campus-based students into the same classroom with the same professors.
“I talk to the faculty about the best practices,” said Butler. “Temple University is also working with Philadelphia to bring together the police department, district attorneys, and other agencies for a workshop. The goal is to dialogue about the causes of crime, rehabilitation, and treating the incarcerated as human beings.”
Meanwhile, Butler has finished his first semester in Cal Poly Pomona’s master’s program in public administration.
“My dream is to fill Dr. Reese’s shoes,” said Butler. “I want to do anything involved with helping incarcerated individuals.”