Formerly incarcerated students from Cal State LA's prison education program celebrate their degrees

LOS ANGELES - June 7, 2022 - PRLog -- Among a sea of graduates, six men in graduation caps and gowns wearing black and gold stoles walked across Cal State LA's Commencement stage.

They posed, smiled, flexed and blew kisses to their loved ones in the audience, celebrating the completion of their degrees. But unlike their peers at the ceremony, these formerly incarcerated graduates began their collegiate journey more than 70 miles away from Cal State LA inside California State Prison, Los Angeles County in Lancaster.

The graduates were students in Cal State LA's Prison B.A. Graduation Initiative, the first in-person bachelor's degree completion program for incarcerated students in California. The program was started in 2016 with support from The Opportunity Institute's Renewing Communities Initiative, President Barack Obama's Second Chance Pell federal pilot program, and later the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Through the program at California State Prison in Lancaster, students earn a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, with a focus on organizational communication from the Department of Communication Studies in Cal State LA's College of Arts and Letters. The program develops the students' critical thinking, public speaking abilities, and writing skills and provides them with experiences that have fostered personal transformations.

"I'm feeling a sense of accomplishment, but truthfully, I feel like this is only the beginning," said Risala Rose-Aminifu, one of the graduates who celebrated earning their degrees at the May 26 Commencement ceremony for the College of Arts and Letters, which took place during Cal State LA's 75th anniversary. "Not only in education, but just in life in general, this is the first righteous positive first step to right my life."

Rose-Aminifu and his fellow graduates are among the more than 35 students who have earned their bachelor's degrees through the program. A total of 14 students from the program have been released from prison and are supported by Cal State LA's Project Rebound, a program that assists formerly incarcerated individuals with re-entry and their continued education following their release.

Rose-Aminifu, Justin Hong, and Thaisan Nguon were released from prison and finished their coursework on the main Cal State LA campus in the fall. They had their Bachelor of Arts in Communication degrees conferred during the Commencement ceremony.

As he crossed the stage, Rose-Aminifu stretched his arms wide, soaking in the moment before blowing a kiss to his parents, cousin and girlfriend.

"I feel like I have another purpose, another calling that's greater," he said. "If I can help somebody else, that's my whole mission."

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Margie Low
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