Murillo and Czifra wanted U.S.I. to be a place where former inmates could talk and help one another, but, more than that, they wanted to figure out a way to recruit more people from prison. The idea of going to college had sounded ridiculous to them, but now they knew that, even if you had dropped out of elementary school, you could still make it. They modelled themselves on a San Francisco organization, Project Rebound, that had been started, in 1967, by a man named John Irwin, who, in his twenties, did time in Soledad for armed robbery. Irwin had gone on to become a professor at San Francisco State, and Project Rebound got former inmates into San Francisco State, where California residents were guaranteed entry if they had a G.P.A. of 2.0 in high school or community college.
But Murillo and Czifra knew that a lot of people in prison could aim higher and get into the U.C. system—you just had to know what to do. Tuition was free for any California resident whose household income was less than eighty thousand dollars a year, but you had to know about financial aid and when to apply for it. You had to know the right courses to take in community college—real academic ones, not the business-certificate classes that sounded practical but were actually useless. You had to do extra stuff that might seem pointless, like joining clubs and going to office hours. You had to write a scintillating personal statement. Yet all that became relevant only after you’d decided to go to college. Getting to that point in the first place—that was harder.
This is an amazing, multi-faceted story about redemption, education, the criminal justice system, and the realities and complexities of human interaction and decency. Send it to anyone who tells you that the world is a terrible place. But don’t think it’s all peaches and cream—the final two paragraphs will disabuse you of that notion real quick.