CREST HILL, Illinois: This week, the ceremony for the graduation of the first batch of students of Northwestern University's Prison Education Program took place, the first time a top-ranked U.S. university has awarded degrees to prisoners.
The ceremony, held at the Stateville correctional facility in Crest Hill, witnessed the graduation of 16 men, accompanied by their families.
Evanston, Illinois-based Northwestern, ranked the ninth leading university in the country by the U.S. News & World Report, is running the program in partnership with Oakton College and the Illinois Department of Corrections.
After the ceremony, graduate Michael Broadway, who gained his degree despite several setbacks, including battling stage 4 prostate cancer, said, "I have no words for this; it is otherworldly. Coming from where I came from, the things that I have been through, and to be here is indescribable."
Broadway, 51, is scheduled to be released in 2084, but said that he would like to start a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment if released early.
Professor Jennifer Lackey, the program's founding director, said, "Twenty years ago, some of these guys were in rival gangs, and here they are swapping poetry with each other and giving critical engagements on sociology assignments. The love and growth that we see in the community is really unlike anything I have experienced at the on-campus commencements."
Some 100 students are enrolled in the Northwestern program across Stateville and the Logan Correctional Center, a women's prison.