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California State Prisoners Pay Teen’s School Tuition

Unfortunately, near the end of his freshman year both of Green’s parents lost their jobs due to unforeseen circumstances. Green’s mother lost her sight in a softball accident, while his father suffered heart problems that required surgery. There was no money left for Green to continue at Palma, and the school’s scholarship fund could not support a full ride for his continued attendance.

The answer to Green’s dilemma came from nearby Soledad State Prison (SSP) where a Palma School ministry outreach program called Exercises in Empathy is held. Upper classmen, teachers and community members regularly travel to SSP to discuss and read books with prisoners. Palma’s Jim Micheletti, who directs the school’s ministry, and also teaches English and theology classes, brainstormed the idea of the face-to-face, interactive book club.

SSP prisoners Jason Bryant and Ted Gray, both members of the book group, came up with the idea of creating a prisoner-funded scholarship program for students in need. They approached Micheletti with their idea, and he immediately thought about Green’s situation. “I was in disbelief,” he recalled in a January 2021 story in The Washington Post. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought, wow, I’m living in a dream here with this,”

He gave the green light to the project. Gray and Bryant went to work.

Prisoner wages at SSP range from eight cents to $1 per hour. Beginning in 2016, Bryant and Gray were able to gather enough donations from prisoners to cover the total cost of Green’s three remaining years at Palma. Prisoners donated amounts from $1 to $100 with the majority of donations ranging from $5 to $10.

Additional funds, totaling around $8,000, came from an outside organization called Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs (CROP). CROP was started by Gray and his father while Gray was in prison. 

While still in prison Gray, Bryant and three other members of the Exercises in Empathy group formed the Phoenix Alliance. The group’s members went from cell-to-cell and prisoner-to-prisoner to raise donations for Green’s tuition. All five Alliance members have since been released from prison, and four actively participate in the nonprofit CROP, whose mission is helping former prisoners to successfully reintegrate into society.

Although not yet an upperclassman, Green was allowed to join Exercises in Empathy, enter the prison, and meet his benefactors. Green said the prisoners he met were nothing like the television stereotypes. “Once I went through those gates, they were all lined up to shake my hand and meet me,” Green said, adding, “You have to have an open mind. If you go in there closed-minded, you’re not going to receive the wisdom they want to give you.”

After graduating Palma School, Green is attending San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. 


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