How Prison Education Programs Transform Lives and
Special to The Truth
In 2014, Benito Castro was
sentenced to six years in prison for passing bad checks as a
result of a gambling habit he’d developed. Today, he’s the
director of operations for a grocery store chain and runs
freedomrides.org, a non-profit he started that provides
transportation for those recently released from prison.
Castro credits his
transformation to the education he received through Ashland
University while in prison.
“I earned my degree while
I was still incarcerated, and that made all the difference
in the world when I was released. It gave me a sense of
purpose and led to a whole new life.”
After early release,
Castro took a job as a dishwasher at a Huddle House
restaurant and met someone from Ideal Market grocery stores,
who hired him as a night manager. From there, Castro quickly
rose to district manager, director of marketing and then
director of operations for the chain.
“I’m a different person
today thanks to the Ashland program. I have financial
security. I’m contributing to society. And most of all I
have self-respect,” said Castro.
operates the largest correctional education program in the
nation. It has more than 4,000 incarcerated students
enrolled at 120 facilities in more than a dozen states and
has graduated nearly a thousand students since 2016, when
the school began offering distance learning beyond its home
state of Ohio.
The program features the
same academic rigor and learning outcomes as the
university’s on-campus curriculum, and is free for students
who qualify for Pell Grants or receive Ashland University
scholarships or other assistance. There is also no cost to
“Providing access to this
underserved community is an integral part of our mission to
transform people’s lives through education so they can go on
to work, serve and lead in their communities,” said Dr.
Carlos Campo, president of Ashland University. “And in many
of the places where we operate, there are no other options
available to inmates who want to use their time in prison to
further their education and invest in themselves.”
Andrea Buttross, Louisiana
Department of Corrections education director, says Ashland’s
distance-learning program is deployed on an easily managed
platform providing those about to re-enter society an
opportunity to access education that they may not
traditionally have received in the prison setting.
“Ashland has decades of
experience working within prison systems and they know how
to operate in this unique environment,” said Buttross. “They
provide all necessary aspects of the program: the
technology, all of the curriculum and resources for the
classes, direct contact with professors, and even an on-site
academic coordinator to help students progress toward their
There are advantages to
distance learning in prisons—especially in the age of COVID.
Classes are available to more students in places where
in-person options are unavailable. Students can take classes
anytime during the day, and their education can continue
once they’re released, regardless of where they live.
To learn more about
Ashland University Correctional Education, visit ashland.edu.
“The incarcerated face a
lot of obstacles in attaining an education because they
often have limited access and fewer choices,” said Dr.
Campo. “We want to change that, one successful student at a