David is a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. He is a formerly incarcerated student and one of the founding members of the Underground Scholars Initiative. He grew up in Berkeley and Oakland. David is a proud student parent and is proud to be clean and sober. In December of 2008, he walked out of county jail committed to sober recovery, education, and transformation. Almost immediately after release he went to SFSU to learn statistics through Project Rebound’s concurrent enrollment program, which brings formerly incarcerated students into higher education. David excelled in the class despite taking university-level math nearly twenty years after earning his G.E.D. in jail. That experience led to his eventual transfer to Berkeley where he earned his BA in Chicano Studies and an MA in Education.
David credits programs such as Project Rebound and describes in his own words,
This program, directed by formerly incarcerated staff, gave me my chance. It was early in my sobriety and soon after my release from custody, but by opening the doors to college education, Project Rebound represented a new life. Soon, I realized that I could remove the mask of masculinity. I could be vulnerable, I could live without medicating the space between me and the world around me. For the first time in my life, I began to internalize ideas about other groups of people, learning a sense of inclusion rather than the racialized divisions that drive the street and correctional institutions. Through developing a critical consciousness, I began to understand the error and dysfunction of my previous thoughts.
The leaders from Project Rebound greatly assisted the formation of the Underground Scholars. We share their vision of having formerly incarcerated people do the work that brings other formerly incarcerated students into higher education. There is a small body of research that shows that education reduces recidivism. However, that research is often inattentive to the theoretical underpinnings that inform the logics of that intersection. There tends to be a fundamental disconnect concerning the idea of formerly incarcerated people in higher education. Quite simply, the two are often framed as incommensurable in popular discourses. Perhaps this is best evidenced by the fact that there are only a handful of programs nationally that do this work and we struggle mightily to secure resources.
I’m often asked what is the biggest obstacle I’ve overcome as a formerly incarcerated student in higher education. Rather than attempt to prioritize the structural arguments (ie… structural racism, welfare state crisis, mass incarceration, etc., etc.) as they intersect with the individual factors (discipline, hard work, etc.), I re-center the conversation by making a distinction. I see my trajectory informed by the community I’ve been privileged enough to work with. The Underground Scholars Initiative and Project Rebound provide more than support they provide hope. I came home with a 40-dollar bicycle, a bus pass, a dream of being a university student, and contact information for Rebound. These programs and the formerly incarcerated people that came before me made my path to a BA, an MA, and now into a PhD program possible. If we take ideological shortcuts and applaud our efforts as individuals (dare I say rugged) we risk reaffirming the neoliberal logics that focus on individual competition and the development of human capital. Those are the market logics that greatly accelerated the crisis in the welfare state that ushered in mass incarceration. In my opinion, change takes a collective effort.