Criminal Law and Justice

Knowledge, Power and Freedom: The Past and Future of College-In-Prison

February 15, 2021  • Criminal Justice Reform Initiative

For nearly three decades, prisoners have been denied access to a college education – but it wasn’t always that way. The Reverend Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship, joins our podcast to explore her own journey through both prison and college, and to tell the story of how federal policy was shifted over time, as part of the ‘war on drugs’ and the continuation of Jim Crow via the justice system. Reverend Nixon calls out the power of education to create change in individuals, who can then change our society and our underlying beliefs about who is valued, and who is not. Recent bipartisan federal legislation will remove one key barrier to college-in-prison, but much remains to be done to erase stigmas and embrace education and opportunity for all people.

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Guest Profile: Reverend Vivian Nixon

Reverend Vivian D. Nixon is Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship (CCF) a New York City organization that helps women and families most harmed by mass criminalization gain equitable access to opportunity and human rights. Reverend Nixon identifies herself as a joyfully Black woman whose release from correctional oversight gave rise to a search for true liberation and guided her academic and career choices. Her work at CCF, and beyond, advances justice through economic and social equity, anti-racism, civic engagement, and artistic expression.

Instructed and ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Reverend Nixon has an MFA from Columbia School of the Arts, and currently teaches at Bennington College’s Center for the Advancement of Public Action. Recognized with multiple honors, she is a recipient of the John Jay Medal for Justice and Fellowships with programs at the Aspen Institute, Open Society Foundations, and Pen America. Reverend Nixon has published book chapters, essays, and poetry, recently co-editing a collection of essays by justice impacted advocates: What We Know: Solutions from Inside the Justice System. Two book-length projects are in the works.

About Shades of Freedom

Shades of Freedom, from The Aspen Institute Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, is a new podcast amplifying and uplifting promising efforts aimed at reducing mass incarceration, and looking at the ecosystem of related inequalities that surrounds and perpetuates incarceration.

The podcast can be found on all the major platforms, including Apple, Google, and Spotify. You can also listen from the from the series home page or listen to the current episode at the top of this page.

The Shades of Freedom podcast, hosted by Dr. Douglas E. Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, is named after and inspired by the book Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process, by Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.