Samuel Irvin spent five years of his life sitting in a jail cell for selling drugs. Now, he sits behind a desk in a classroom as a psychology major in his second year at San Francisco State University.
After serving his sentence, a now 32-year-old Irvin was resigned to falling into the prison system. But, the birth of his son four years ago made him realize that he didn’t want his son growing up without a dad.
Looking for a complete turnaround, Irvin landed at Project Rebound at SFSU, a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals pursue a college education and provides financial and administrative aid during the process – and Cal State Long Beach hopes to offer it soon.
“I had no idea where to go after I got out,” Irvin recalls. “I would have never thought I’d be going back to school.”
Introduced in 1979 at SFSU, the program has expanded onto an additional seven CSU campuses: Sacramento, San Bernardino, Fresno, Pomona, San Diego, Bakersfield and Fullerton, who added the program late last year.
CSULB’s Associated Students, Inc. College of Liberal Arts Senator Elvia Cabrera has been in charge of introducing the program to the Senate and ASI government. While the initiative for Project Rebound is still in the works, the drive to incorporate the program on campus is very much there.
“Seeing our campus come together through protest, forums and leadership is exactly the possibilities I envision for other campuses with an addition like this because we strive to be an inclusive campus,” Cabrera said. “I hope this will give former felons the motivation and feeling of encouragement I would want if I was in their shoes.”
Still, Cabrera is aware of the opposition a program like this can bring.
“Hearing about this program may scare people at first, but really it is necessary to look at the consequences and effects this program will bring to all the college campuses and the communities these prospective students will be a part of,” she said.
Cabrera says that the inspiration for Project Rebound at CSULB came from a 52-year-old communications graduate student at CSULB, Dale Lendrum, who brought the idea to ASI Senate.
“The significance of having Project Rebound on campus relates directly to the communities’ demographic in terms of prisoners being imprisoned from and released to the surrounding area,” Lendrum said.
He explains that the Second Chance Pell grant that former President Barack Obama instituted further promotes those exiting the criminal justice system to pursue higher education.
Lendrum also explained that California may be able to benefit from Project Rebound expanding.
“For every former offender who turns their life around, the state can fund 10 undergraduate students for a year,” he said.
He also says that “formerly incarcerated students are one of the fastest growing, underserved and under-recognized student populations on campus.”
As for what ASI hopes to accomplish with the program, the ability to offer a second chance to people who believe they don’t have one or deserve one is something they want to be able to establish at CSULB, according to Lendrum.
“In terms of goals, we seek to assist in a smooth transition from prison to higher education, a prison-to-school pipeline if you will,” he said. “Our goal is to help formerly incarcerated students enter college and then further provide them the resources to succeed once they are here.”
There are currently over 174,000 individuals either incarcerated in a California jail or on parole. Of those incarcerated, about a quarter will be released within the next two years, according to a population report from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“More prisoners are being released that need to continue their degree programs, or better yet, apply for admission into their next degree program,” Lendrum said.
Jason Bell is the director of Project Rebound at SFSU. Bell spent nine years in prison before attending the school and with the help of the program, has since received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He is now focused on introducing Project Rebound to other campuses across the country, including CSULB.
“Project Rebound is beneficial anywhere because it wants to help people improve their lives after they hit rock bottom,” Bell said. “We want to use education as an alternative to incarceration.”
According to Bell, 90 percent of Project Rebound students have graduated SFSU and the program’s graduation rate has increased more than the rest of the student population.
Bell would like to get Project Rebound into outlets other than college campuses so more people can be aware of the program and it’s benefits.
“The most important thing we want to accomplish is obviously having our students graduate with a degree, but it’s much more than that,” Bell said. “We want to be able to give folks a second chance, something that perhaps they never thought could happen for them.”