Matthew Barnes, a student in the College of the Redwoods Pelican Bay Scholars Program, embodies the reality that higher education can lead to a better quality of life for currently and formerly incarcerated students, their families, and entire communities. As he looks forward to parole next year and his transfer to California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt (Cal Poly Humboldt), Matt took the time to share his experience, thoughts on California’s Best Practices: Pathways From Prison to College, future plans, and poetry with us.

Being a student in the College of the Redwoods Pelican Bay Scholars Program has profoundly impacted Matt’s life and experience in prison. In his words, “It has opened my eyes to the bigger picture that my actions affect others, that I am not alone in this world. I’ve also been able to find self-worth and purpose in my life by believing in myself and doing what I know is right.” Looking at the broader picture of incarcerated students beyond his individual experience, Matt believes that postsecondary educational programs in prison give “one the necessary tools and knowledge to live a pro-social life outside these walls. It also gives us hope for a better tomorrow and that we are not our past mistakes.”

As Matt prepares to re-enter society, he is uniquely positioned to understand both the incarcerated student’s perspective and that of a student transitioning from prison to college. While he navigates his own transition, Matt sees California’s Best Practices, created by the Smart Justice Think Tank, as a necessary, well-developed tool that will ultimately allow “individuals to overcome their past; breaking the negative cycle of incarceration and setting them up for success,” he shared. 

Looking towards the future, which Matt describes as “awesome,” with an appreciation for the past, he credits his experience in prison as what will lead him to be the first person in his family to attend a university. Next year, Matt will continue his studies at Cal Poly Humboldt where he plans to earn his Bachelor’s in English. Post-graduation, Matt hopes to give back to his community, help people who face similar struggles to his own, and advocate for leaning on those who have experienced the problem to create the solution.  

If you are interested in learning more about how to best serve students in prison, join us on November 9, 2022, for California’s Best Practices For Students Inside Prisons.

Register for the event

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

To sign up for our newsletter, click here