Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Bernhardt’s inauguration features Emerson Prison Initiative, emphasizes advocacy

Yufei Meng
From left, Amy Ansell, dean of Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies, Mneesha Gellman, founder and director of Emerson Prison Initiative, and Mac Hudson, an EPI alumnus, discuss the impact of expanding access to an Emersonian education to incarcerated people in Massachusetts at the EPI alumni panel held in the Bill Bordy Theater on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (Yufei Meng/Beacon Staff)

The Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI) hosted a panel on March 20 as a part of the many events leading up to the inauguration of President Jay Bernhardt. 

EPI launched in 2017 at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord (MCI-Concord), offering the same courses taught on Emerson’s main campus for official Emerson credits. Students at MCI-Concord complete coursework on a track to earn a bachelor’s degree in media, literature, and culture. 

Since then, EPI has continued to grow and change while still maintaining its goal “to democratize access to tertiary education for those who have been historically marginalized or otherwise unable to attend college,” as stated on EPI’s website. EPI admitted three 20-student cohorts, the first cohort beginning classes in Fall 2017 and seeing nine members earn Emerson College degrees while incarcerated. The degree-granting campus moved from MCI-Concord to MCI-Norfolk last year. 

In addition to providing college education to incarcerated students, EPI also offers the Reentry and College Outside Program (RECOUP). RECOUP offers a specialized reentry into society program for previously incarcerated students, regardless of graduation status. The RECOUP program “facilitates connections with local reentry support organizations to help formerly incarcerated students obtain wraparound services like public benefits, driver’s licenses, and MassHealth,” as stated on EPI’s website. In addition to these services, students can continue their education at Emerson’s Boston campus, where they can pursue their degrees or take advantage of career and alumni services. 

One EPI and Emerson alumni, Mac Hudson, attended Wednesday’s panel to share his story and speak about how EPI impacted his life while he was incarcerated and after his release. Hudson graduated from Emerson in May 2023, the first previously incarcerated student to walk the stage at Emerson’s commencement ceremony. Hudson previously earned his certificate of law from the Paralegal Institute in January 1998. He currently works as a paralegal and reentry consultant at Prisoners’​ Legal Services of Massachusetts, focusing on the Racial Equity in Corrections Initiative. 

In reflecting on his experience with EPI, Hudson expressed gratitude for the program and how it offered him a second chance. 

“I think a lot is lost in what we hear in the typical punishment versus rehabilitation conversation,” Hudson said. “And that extracts humanism out of the issue.” 

Advocacy for programs like EPI, he said, is crucial to their survival. He said that programs like EPI benefit people who have traditionally been marginalized from college education, regardless of whether or not they face incarceration. Structural racism, he explained, goes hand-in-hand with the prison industry, but programs like EPI give students access to resources they would not have otherwise. 

“Once you start on that pathway of individual growth, then it only compliments opportunity because now you can start to see the structural barriers that exist that you couldn’t identify [before],” said Hudson.

Upon graduating from Emerson, Hudson remains an advocate, not only for EPI but for racial justice as well. Hudson frequently testifies on behalf of previously incarcerated people, works on legislation to support prisoners, and overturns his and other wrongful convictions. Despite all of this, he said, his work is far from over. 

“I’m starting to see this backslide in comfortability and the reality of that is, we go back to the status quo, rationalizing, justifying, and not looking at the expense of people’s lives,” he said.

In addition to his work as a paralegal, Hudson contributed to the documentary “Voices from Behind the Wall” and is working on another documentary to share his and other stories. 

Mneesha Gellman, founder of EPI and panelist at Wednesday’s event, shared more insights about EPI’s development. Demand for more classes is high at MCI-Norfolk, she explained. 

“We are moving towards a model where we would be running admissions every other year,” Gellman said.

The goal, she said, is to produce as many bachelor’s degree–holding Emerson alumni as possible. 

Students and faculty interested in learning more or contributing to Emerson’s Prison Initiative are encouraged to visit their website. Additionally, EPI also offers a co-curricular (IN 347: EPI Co-Curricular) for students looking to engage further with the initiative. Those looking to enroll in the co-curricular should contact [email protected] or [email protected]

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Katherine Cressman
Katherine Cressman, Staff Writer
Katherine is a freshman journalism major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. When she is not writing you can find her singing in Achoired Taste, playing tennis, or watching cat videos on TikTok.

Comments (0)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. We welcome strong opinions and criticism that are respectful and constructive. Comments are only posted once approved by a moderator and you have verified your email. All users are expected to adhere to our comment section policy. READ THE FULL POLICY HERE: https://berkeleybeacon.com/comments/
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *