35-year-old Marcus Lily is a student at the University of Baltimore. He started his degree while serving time at the Jessup Correctional Institution. Marcus describes his studying in prison as an escape. While reading, he could forget that he was a prisoner and all the negative issues that came with being locked up. It was his happy place.
Growing Up Marcus Lily
Marcus knew from a young age he would end up in prison before he got to college. Growing up he had the least interest in education. He had no positive role model in his life in East Baltimore. The teachers were barely interested in what he did with himself. Consequently, he dropped out of high school in ninth grade.
He started dealing drugs as a teenager. He was in and out of jail from the age of 13. Eventually, he was locked up for several charges. One of them being attempted murder.
Marcus Lily Receives a Prison Education
This for him was a blessing. He got his GED while in prison and proceeded with some non-accredited classes. These classes were taken at the library in the institution where they would read books.
In 2015, the Obama administration allowed for the issuance of Pell grants to incarcerated persons. Due to this, the University of Baltimore brought the college to prison.
Start of the University Journey
On the first day, they were given a writing placement test. Marcus is a person that writes best when passionate decided to write about his son. He wrote about how proud he was of his father joining college.
Everyone came to class from around the prison on the first day. The numbers started to thin out and only 30 of them were left.
Problems and Solutions: Prison Education at it’s Finest
At times, the students would have problems of getting to class on time. This was caused by the officers taking unusually long to count all inmates. They did not care that they had a class to attend nor that they needed the hours to get their degrees.
Marcus explained that they met in the library for their classes. Seeing that it was open to all prisoners, they were open to all sorts of distractions.
Some of them suggested having all the students moved to one block. This would keep them away from all negativity and stabbings from other inmates. They could come together and create a small campus for themselves.
The request was heard and granted. They were moved to their own block. Though it was not a pleasant environment, they worked together to make it their small haven.
They also tried to get a private room for their classes, however, their pleas fell on deaf ears due to prison politics. The request was denied.
For Marcus, he feels that college expanded him. The classes exposed him to new ideas. He got to learn new things like political philosophies. From these classes, he learned that he does not need to let his environment define him.
Life after Prison for Ex-Inmate Marcus Lily
Marcus was released from prison in December. 13 years after he was locked up. He joined the University of Baltimore. Seeing he had already done 8 classes while in prison, he was almost a sophomore. He enrolled in two classes: human ecology and business ethics. Currently, he is pursuing a degree in Nonprofit Management.
Socializing was a challenge for Marcus. Prison has its way of dehumanizing you. He found interacting with people extremely hard. On his first days in class, he would sit at the front and just take notes. The more he stayed, the more he got comfortable and felt like he belonged.
The Second Chance Program hired him a re-entry coordinator. She has been working with him by helping him adjust to his new life after prison. A few of his professors and classmates know he is the first student from the Second Chance Program to attend class on campus. None of them have been negative about it.
Marcus was previously invited to talk to students at a private high school in Washington, D.C. he was asked to share his experience and talk about why educational opportunities are required in prisons.
He used the story of Spiderman to pass his message across. Spiderman only began using his powers after his uncle was shot. Marcus compared the system to spiderman and education as the power.
The system has the power but does not want to use it. They, however, get upset when locked up people are released from prison and have a thirst for education.