Fellowships for Formerly Incarcerated Pitzer Graduates

Kenny Butler ’22 was paroled last summer after serving 15 years in prison. This fall, the newly minted Pitzer College graduate will travel to Uganda to conduct research as a Fulbright fellow.

“I am about to spend 10 months in Uganda as a cultural ambassador for the United States,” Butler said. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed it possible.”

Butler is one of three members of Pitzer’s inaugural Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA cohort who have been awarded prestigious post-graduate fellowships. The College’s Pathway-to-BA program builds on Inside-Out curriculum, in which “inside” students who are incarcerated and “outside” students learn together in classrooms in prison, to create a pathway to a Bachelor of Arts degree at Pitzer.

In addition to Butler, Freddy Cisneros ’21 was accepted to the Executive Fellowship Program, a public policy fellowship offered through Sacramento State University’s Capital Fellows Programs. Reggie Bullock ’22 received a Jesse Unruh California Assembly Fellowship, which is also run through the Capital Fellows Programs.

Cisneros called winning the fellowship “a life-altering event,” while Bullock said, “It was a surreal moment in my life.” Both will soon immerse themselves in California state government and public policy through hands-on learning and mentorship.

All eight students in Pitzer’s initial Pathway-to-BA cohort became Pitzer graduates. After earning associate degrees for transfer through Norco College, they took Inside-Out courses at the medium-security California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California.

“Kenny, Freddy, and Reggie’s journeys have been very different from one another,” said Professor Nigel Boyle, who helped create the Inside-Out program at Pitzer. “But in all three cases, a personal or spiritual transformation preceded participation in the Pathway-to-BA program. They were each primed to seize that educational opportunity.

“Pitzer’s program and others like it are not about incentivizing prisoners to learn, they are about letting smart, intellectually voracious incarcerated people ignite.”

The cohort’s path from incarceration to higher education has garnered national attention. National Public Radio did an in-depth story about Butler and Daniel Duron ’22 as they pursued their degrees during and after incarceration. The NPR story, “Getting a bachelor’s degree in prison is rare. That’s about to change,” aired on All Things Considered and described how Inside-Out classes reinforced Butler’s belief that his “experience, thoughts, and ideas have value.”

“I belong at the table,” Butler told NPR. “I deserve to be heard.”