December 9, 2009

“The Investor” pays so inmates can go to college

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Here’s an early holiday gift, something to remind us what the season is all about.

rita_hibbardwebAn Oregon man has donated nearly $300,000 over two years so that bank robbers, kidnappers and other felons in that state can go to college. His latest gift is $15,000 so that women inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville can buy books for themselves.

Just call him “The Investor,” reports Susan Goldsmith of The Oregonian.

Oregon’s educational offerings for prisoners have been limited largely to GED classes and vocational training since 1994. That’s the year Congress stopped Pell grants for college tuition for prisoners, effectively shutting down every prison college program in the country.

The Investor, who insists remaining anonymous, on was inspired by a “60 Minutes” report in 2007 on a program sponsored by Bard College in New York, that provides free college courses to inmates.

“He believes government can’t do everything and private citizens need to step up,” said Nancy Green, director of corrections education for Chemeketa Community College. “He also believes people deserve a second chance because all of us have made mistakes in our lives.”

Green took the donor’s call when he first explored making the grant in 2007. The Investor has no criminal history, nor does anyone in his family. He just sees his gift as a good investment in the community. Participants must be within five years of release,  maintain a B average and have 18 months of good conduct.

Nick McCarty, 29, is at Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, eight years into an 11-year sentence for armed robbery. He also has a 4.0 grade point for two years’ work. “I want to be a civil engineer and plan on transferring to a four-year school when I get out,” said McCarty, who is taking geology, art and American history. “I’ve never seen any other program in the prisons effect change like this.”

— Rita Hibbard

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