How earning a college degree put four California men on a path from prison to new lives | Documentary 


Samual N. Brown, Allen Burnett, Charlie Praphatananda and Dara Yin have stories to tell.

Their time in prison was shrouded by their reality. Three of the four were charged with murder and sentenced to life without parole. It’s what one of them, who entered prison at 20, describes as death by incarceration.

Taking college courses had been going on for decades in California prisons, but in 2016, California State University Los Angeles became the first college to offer bachelor’s degrees to people in prison.

Now, eight of the state’s 34 adult prisons have started or are soon to begin partnerships that award four-year degrees, making California a leader in expanding college degree programs into the state’s prisons.

The trend touches only a sliver of incarcerated people, however. While California incarcerates about 95,600 people in its prison system, about 230 enrolled in the fall in a bachelor’s degree program. For the four men whose stories are told in this documentary, just the chance to earn the degree made it possible for them to see themselves living a different life outside of prison. Three ultimately got their sentences commuted. The fourth was paroled.

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