New scholarship enables former Richmond jail residents to study at VCU

vcu-logoA new Virginia Commonwealth University scholarship is providing three people who took college classes while incarcerated at the Richmond City Justice Center with the opportunity to continue their education at VCU.

The John Patrick Dooley Open Minds Scholarship will cover all tuition, fees and books for a three-credit course for each of the three inaugural recipients.

The scholarship grew out of Open Minds, a program sponsored by the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office and VCU that offers dual enrollment college classes held at the Richmond City Justice Center for both VCU students and residents of the jail.

“This is an historic moment,” said David Coogan, Ph.D., co-director of Open Minds and a professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Our two institutions have never had a scholarship to encourage the best students who happen to be incarcerated go on to become the best students on campus. We hear a lot about the schools-to-prison pipeline. With this new initiative, we hope to create a prison-to-school pipeline.”

Richmond City Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. said that the scholarships will help lay the groundwork for the recipients’ futures.

“Not only are we making history with these scholarships, but we are making futures,” Woody said at a ceremony to award the scholarships. “What a great name – ‘Open Minds.’ When you open your mind, you open your heart to bigger and better things. The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the more you grow. Education is the key to all our success.”

The scholarship is named in honor of the late John Patrick Dooley, an alumnus of VCU who served in several leadership positions in Virginia’s government over 30 years, and who was the father of john David Dooley, a VCU alumnus who served as a teacher in the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office for 36 years. It is supported by VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Office and pledged gifts from john David Dooley.

The first recipients of the John Patrick Dooley Open Minds Scholarship were announced at a ceremony at the Richmond City Justice Center. The recipients were:

· Christian Brackett, who says he may be interested in studying psychology and mental health. “[I would like] to learn how to better help a drug addict stop destroying their life, or help a post-war veteran with the trauma, or even a person with depression and OCD cope with everyday life,” he wrote in his application.

· Pinetta Fleming, who has worked with hospice patients in the Richmond area and who is interested in pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s medical degree to help treat the elderly. “There’s always a place for another humanitarian,” she wrote. “The idea of helping others and believing in the care of others is magical. I’m serious about the practice of compassion, which furthers the medical competence I have already established.”

· William J. Scruggs III, who wants to pursue a degree in education or social work, and who credits Open Minds and Dooley’s jail education programs with re-igniting his desire for learning. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself taking college courses in jail, let alone with students from VCU,” he wrote. “My time in these classes has enlightened me and exposed me to many new ideas, a new awareness and excellent reading as well as a new freedom through writing.”

Applicants for the scholarship must have their GED and be currently enrolled and in good standing in college classes taught by core faculty members in VCU’s Open Minds program, including Coogan; Jon Waybright, a term instructor of Religious Studies in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences; and Liz Canfield, an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences; or Virginia Union University’s Inside Out course taught by Julie A. Molloy, Ph.D., an associate professor in VUU’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The applicants must demonstrate what they have learned in their college classes at the Richmond City Justice Center, as well as what they hope to learn in the two courses that they will take at VCU in the 2015-16, academic year. They must also demonstrate a strong promise of success in the classroom and show how higher education will fit into their life plans after incarceration, including issues such as employment and recovery.

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