The Ramsey Unit is a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prison farm located in Rosharon, Texas, on 14,667 acres of land. Many have never heard of it, including me, but there’s a reason why UHCL students should be familiar with this prison.
UHCL is the only institution in the TDCJ Education Program that offers graduate degree programs to prisoners. UHCL is also one of three institutions in Texas that offers undergraduate degree programs to prisoners, along with Sam Houston State University and Tarlton State University. The program has been in existence since UHCL opened in 1974.
At the Student Conference for Research and Creative Arts (SCRCA), held last week on campus, I attended “Reorienting the Orient: Part III Ramsey Campus.” There, in a video recording, two prisoners in the process of earning their degrees, presented papers they had written for their class about non-western humanities. The video showed the other students from their class engaging in an open discussion in the classroom as well. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but what I saw was something extremely similar to what UHCL students do on campus everyday.
Former Dean of the School of Human Sciences and Humanities Calvin Cannon started negotiations for the program in the spring of 1974. The first person to teach at the Ramsey Prison was Curtis Smith, former associate dean of Human Sciences and Humanities and professor of literature. Others who have taught at Ramsey include John Gorman, professor of literature, Gretchen Mieskowski, former professor of literature, who was the first woman to teach at Ramsey, and Bruce Palmer, former dean of school of human sciences and humanities and professor of history.
Shreerekha Subramanian, associate professor of humanities, currently teaches at Ramsey. She explained the context of their classes, the amount and intensity of the material they are willing to take on and the astonishing statistics that those who obtain degrees have upon their release.
For inmates released from prison with a degree, less than 15 percent will return to a life of crime. Furthermore, prisoners pay their own way through college; some qualify for financial aid and are expected to pay back their loans upon release.
These students are putting in the work to better themselves. It has also been shown that inmates who graduate with a college degree become involved in careers that work with reducing criminal conduct. Recent recidivism rate statistics show fewer than 15 percent for those who earned an associate degree, fewer than 10 percent for those earning a bachelors and almost zero percent for those earning a master’s degree. The Ramsey Unit presentation was definitely an eye opening experience. Learning what this education program can do for these inmates gave me a new look at a “second chance.”