All Press Releases for May 14, 2022

After Serving 15 Years in Prison, Pitzer Graduate, former Crips Gang Member, Earns Fulbright Fellowship to Uganda

Pitzer Senior and founding member of Pitzer's Inside-Out-Pathway-to-BA Program Kenneth Butler '22 earns the prestigious Fulbright Fellow

    LOS ANGELES, CA, May 14, 2022 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Pitzer College student, Kenneth Butler '22, who pursued his degree through Inside-Out courses while incarcerated in a medium-security prison, has been awarded a 2022-23 Fulbright US Student Program grant to study the lives of men released from a maximum-security prison in Uganda. Butler, one of the college's 12 Fulbright awardees so far this year, is the first formerly incarcerated student from Pitzer to win a Fulbright Fellowship. Butler served 15 years before being paroled in June 2021.

Butler's Fulbright research will explore how the educational, athletic, and social networks of Luzira Upper Prison in Kampala, Uganda help men reintegrate into society after their release. This research will also examine why the under-resourced Ugandan prison system has a lower recidivism rate than the prison system in the US, which, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, spends more than $80 billion a year on mass incarceration.

"I think the US may have a lot to learn from a different approach to incarceration and recidivism," Butler wrote in his Fulbright application. "My investigation of the lives of those who have been through the Ugandan carceral system is the first step on that path."

Butler first learned about Uganda's prison system in an Inside-Out course he took in spring 2021, The Carceral State in Comparative Perspective, taught by Nigel Boyle, a Pitzer Professor of Political Studies. Built on a model developed at Temple University and overseen by the Justice Education Initiative of the Claremont Colleges, Inside-Out classes bring "inside" incarcerated individuals and "outside" college students together to attend the same classes with the same professors in the same classroom.

"Thirty years after he was a junior participant in the famous Watts Truce, Kenny Butler has become one of the most decorated students in Pitzer history," Boyle said. "In the intervening years, he was mostly incarcerated, and he was also a leading figure in the Crips. But he was changed by his religious faith and his Pitzer education, and a life derailed is now spectacularly on the academic fast track."

Butler's collegiate academic journey began with correspondence courses in 2015. When he was transferred to CRC in 2018, he signed up for Inside-Out classes initially "just to break up the monotony of daily life in prison." He didn't know that outside students and professors would be coming into the prison to teach and learn alongside him. Those courses, in which 12 inside students and 12 outside students shared a classroom in the CRC, made "an indelible mark on my life," Butler writes.

Butler was asked to join the Inside-Out Think Tank, which is composed of inside students who advise program administrators and advocated to create a way for incarcerated students to earn credits toward a Pitzer degree, which led to the establishment of Pitzer's groundbreaking Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program. Butler also served as a representative in Pitzer's Student Senate, as the first currently incarcerated student to participate in Pitzer's student government.

After being paroled in summer 2021, Butler took classes on campus in fall 2021, joined the Student Senate curriculum committee, and became an Institute for Global/Local Action & Study fellow. Boyle encouraged Butler, an organizational studies major, to apply for a Fulbright in addition to other post-graduate awards and opportunities. Earlier this month, Butler received a Napier Award for Creative Leadership to establish a peace and reconciliation program with the aim of bringing together formerly incarcerated people whose lives have been impacted by gang culture. Less than a week after being awarded a Fulbright, Butler learned that he had been accepted into Cal Poly Pomona's master's in public administration program.

One of Butler's goals for his Fulbright research and for the rest of his life as an activist-scholar is to serve as "a voice for the voiceless." "I am about to spend 10 months in Uganda. I've never been outside of the country except for Mexico," Butler explained. "I'll be a cultural ambassador for the United States. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed it possible." After serving 15 years in prison and facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole, Butler is now preparing to walk in Pitzer's 2022 commencement ceremony and travel to Uganda as a Fulbright fellow.

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