Giving the Educated a Second Chance By Kwaneta Harris

A Second Chance Essay about the limited opportunities for people with an education once released from prison. The author has spent 7 years in solitary confinement.

Giving the Educated a Second Chance By Kwaneta Harris

When the discussion turns to education and second chances, what's often overlooked are the educated people entering person. In the us, women are the fastest growing group of people locked up in the state and federal prisons, county jails and juvenile detention centers. so, it shouldn't be shocking that educated women have been swept up in the carceral dragnet. If their convictions aren't related to their occupation, why can't they return to their chosen Fields upon release?

I've met many women, in professional careers prior to their incarceration. My friends have included: dentist, lawyers, teachers, chiropractor and other nurses, like me. against the odds we graduated and received state licenses in our fields. Some spent decades mastering their trade. the knowledge and duties become reflexive.

It's foolish for the state to believe as if all convictions lead to, poof, an instant loss of skills. an accountant driving under the influence and convicted of vehicular manslaughter can't do my taxes anymore? A renowned dentist who ran over her adulterous husband is working at Taco Bell. Another nurse, convicted for bringing her son a cell phone into a prison, must now return to school for Mortuary science. a high school principal so beloved by her community, former students and their parents crowded the courtroom, to provide character testimony. She hired an undercover cop to kill her cheating spouse. she can't even get hired at Uber. A lawyer with a conviction related to substance use disorder was denied a paralegal license to just do research. Once the prison term is served the debt to society is paid. In the USA, we have shortages in various careers. Let us return to work.

How is society served by preventing us to return to our jobs after refresher and continuing education training and tests? Our family needs didn't freeze during our incarceration. we too have children to put through college. Elderly parents to care for and health needs requiring adequate medical insurance. Our money has long gone. The 401ks and IRAs were cashed in for legal fees, bail and prison expenses such as commissary, medical and phone fees. We work full-time, for free, during our incarceration. prison is the punishment. it shouldn't be a forever punishment.  

I don't think the state should decide who can't and can work. Market forces should. Allow the public to know the truth and I doubt a bad decision that has no bearing on their job performance would be cause for concern. If we are to be returning citizens, and expect it to contribute to society, we need a second chance to remind you what we are capable of doing.

About Kwaneta:

As a 50-year-old in solitary confinement for the past 7 years of my 15-year incarceration, the state of Texas has deemed me unworthy to educate. Thankfully, I don't share their opinion. I continue to learn new things and unlearn harmful beliefs that contribute to trauma. As long as I breathe, I will always be an advocate for education for the incarcerated women existing in a system designed to fail them.

Kwaneta Harris Pg1
Kwaneta Harris Page 2

Editor's Note:

Kwaneta's essay is important because she tackles the notion that "every sentence is a life sentence" more directly than any other writer who submitted. I appreciated the cadence of the language she selected while questioning the role an offense should play in determining post-release careers. She also expanded our view into the backgrounds of people we find in prison, and challenges some commonly held beliefs that people inside prisons lack drive, ambition, or even the intellect for education.

After reading her bio that she has been in solitary confinement for seven years, I was struck by her sass - it's difficult to hang onto that when deprived of human contact for so long. For anyone curious, here is a link to a Texas Observer article that explains more about Kwaneta's probably living conditions.