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10 Missouri Inmates Receive Associate Degrees From University


In Missouri last week, there was a graduation ceremony.


All the typical things you would expect for the graduation - you know, caps and gowns and a stage and even a brass band - but this ceremony was different.

HARVEY GALLER: This is definitely not an educational environment in here. So we're up against a lot.

KING: In here is the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Mo. Harvey Galler is incarcerated there. We talked to him on the phone about his graduation. He told us that he and nine other incarcerated men crossed the stage and got their associates degrees from Washington University in St. Louis.

GALLER: It was just so surreal. It was just like, I can't believe this is me that's doing this right now. I can't believe that we've done this.

KING: Galler says before he went to prison, education was not on his mind.

GALLER: I was living on the street, shooting heroin. You know, I was stealing from stores to support myself. Of course, I wasn't - this wasn't on my mind.

INSKEEP: Galler says that Washington University's prison education program provided him and his fellow inmates an opportunity. In order to earn their degree, the men had to complete 20 courses across disciplines while serving time.

GALLER: Being able to actually, like, sit in the same room with these professors that treat us like we're no less than any other student, that means a lot.

KING: Galler and his classmates were the program's first graduating class.

GALLER: It's going to open up a lot of doors for me. So you know, when I get out, I'm not just going to be one of those other individuals that came into prison and sat here and just warehoused for five years; I actually came in here and did something with my life. I changed myself.

INSKEEP: So he says when he gets out of prison, he's going to continue his education at Washington University and, eventually, he hopes, get a master's in social work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATLAS.EXE'S "MIDNIGHT BY THE WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.