It’s about being aware of your opportunities, your potential, and “the hidden treasure inside” of you, explains Darryl Brooks.
There are days, says the recent Rutgers University–Camden graduate, when he will stand on the driveway of his Mount Laurel home and look up at the stars – and even they look a little different.
“I see how my stars are changing,” says Brooks, who graduated in January with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “There’s a path that’s laid for me and I’m paying attention to the signposts now. I’m starting to awaken to my greatness.”
With a new lease on life, Brooks is now a proud graduate of the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons Consortium (NJ-STEP) program. NJ-STEP, an umbrella organization comprised of higher education institutions in New Jersey, partners with the state to provide higher education courses for all students in state custody, and assists in their transition to college life upon their release.
These days, Brooks is still at home on the Rutgers–Camden campus, proctoring exams for the Office of Disability Services – that is, when he’s not busy preparing to take the LSAT with plans to attend Rutgers Law School for dual degrees in law and a master of public administration.
Marsha Besong, assistant chancellor for student academic success at Rutgers–Camden, lauds the Mountainview students for overcoming incredible obstacles in order to continue their education, which include navigating the probation and parole systems, living in halfway houses, and acclimating to new systems, policies, and procedures.
“Even with these challenges, I am proud to share that in the first academic year of the program at Rutgers–Camden, all of the Moutainview students earned GPAs of 3.3 or higher and three students have graduated,” she says.
Make no mistake, says Brooks, education is not just a byproduct of his time spent “on the inside.” He says that it is far and away the primary reason he is a different person than he was a decade ago.
“The prison-to-prosperity pipeline flows through education,” he says.
“It is heartening,” he says. “I am thunderstruck at the opportunities that I have.”