Facilitating Successful Reentry: EPI Reentry and College Outside Program (RECOUP) Staff Perspective
By: Mneesha Gellman, 2022 – 2023 IIE Centennial Fellow
As the founder and director of the Emerson Prison Initiative (EPI) at Emerson College, and a professor, scholar, human rights worker, and mom of two elementary school-aged children, I am working on acknowledging that I can’t do everything myself. As EPI has grown, the need to have professional staff beyond the amazing team of faculty volunteers who help me run the program is crystal clear. The IIE Centennial Fellowship allowed me to hire EPI’s first-ever paid staff as part of building EPI Reentry and College Outside Program (RECOUP). This position, thanks to IIE, is helping us better support former EPI students as they transition out of prison and set meaningful goals for their life after prison. In this blog, I want to introduce you to this wonderful staff member through a short interview with her.
Tell the world who you are!
My name is Reilly Loynd and I am the Program Coordinator for EPI’s RECOUP program. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Human Rights from Bard College (where I tutored with the Bard Prison Initiative) and then working as a Public Policy Associate at a criminal justice reform nonprofit, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), in New Orleans. I am energized to be in this role at the intersection of public policy reform and democratizing access to higher education in prison.
What communities do you support in EPI RECOUP?
The Emerson Prison Initiative, and more specifically our RECOUP program, are designed to support college-ready people in and, returning from, prison. Reentry support is an emerging and essential arena of criminal justice reform. As the RECOUP Program Coordinator, I work specifically with our recently released students. Our programming, designed in conjunction with and for formerly incarcerated people includes identifying and meeting basic housing, income, and nutrition needs, connecting individuals to community and college resources and establishing and realizing college continuity goals.
How does EPI RECOUP address racial inequality and social injustice?
RECOUP is committed to ensuring college continuity for formerly incarcerated individuals, many of whom cite the introduction of EPI while incarcerated as their first exposure to a higher education opportunity. This emphasizes the already well researched school-to-prison pipeline wherein young people, often from communities of color, who are not invested in early on or are disproportionately disciplined due to their lack of resources, are unable to advance their education. College-in-prison doesn’t make the existence of prison in its current form in the United States acceptable, but as long as people are locked up, we work to bring them access to college.
However, many college students in prison are not guaranteed the same access to education upon their release and while navigating the many bureaucratic barriers brought about by reentry. This is a major gap in post-secondary education in prison (PEP) that RECOUP aims to articulate and mitigate.
What does equality look like to you?
While equality is an aspirational idea because it suggests that all people should have equal access to the resources that will help them live a fulfilling life, advancing equity proves challenging in educational settings and beyond. Pursuing equitable educational opportunities means acknowledging barriers, often brought about by generations of systemic oppression, and then working effectively to overcome them.
By acknowledging how much knowledge is power and then working to combat traditional instances of academic gatekeeping, we believe RECOUP is providing pathways to college-eligible individuals who may otherwise struggle to receive the recognition they deserve.
This process includes emphasizing EPI students as regular Emerson students from the time of their acceptance into the program right through their graduation, regardless of which classrooms – prison or traditional campus – they are in. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, this process of striving for educational equity includes welcoming EPI graduates into the extensive and well-resourced network of Emerson College alums. RECOUP aims to take advantage of the resources available and afforded to those of us within the realm of a high-powered academic institution, while trying every day to better distribute those resources. In this way equality, or even better—equity—looks like every-day resource redistribution from Emerson College to EPI students in, and returning from, prison.