An unusual new student, Michelle Jones, began her Ph.D. program at prestigious New York University this past September. I can’t help but wonder how she is doing. When she arrived in New York City, Harvard University was still arguing about whether they should have admitted her. Actually, she had originally been accepted at Harvard, but then the school flip-flopped. Harvard University had been her first choice as a school.
Michelle Jones, now 45, had been released from Indiana Women’s Prison only 2 days before school started at NYU. Ms. Jones was incarcerated in there for more than 20 years for the murder of her 4-year old son, Brandon. She got pregnant when she was only 14, after what she said was non-consensual sex with an older boy. Angry because of the pregnancy, her mother beat her stomach with a board so severely that her baby was born with a disability. At that time, the pregnant teenager was placed in a series of foster homes to protect her from her mother.
By 1992, Michelle Jones was living in an apartment with her 4-year-old son Brandon. But something terrible happened that year; Brandon died. The circumstances of his death were never clear and his body was never found. Ms. Jones had a breakdown and ended up in a mental health institution, during which time she confessed to having beaten the boy and then leaving him alone for days while she went off to attend a theater conference. Ms. Jones was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of her son. This is not an atypical story of how violence begets violence.
But the rest of her story is far from typical. Ms. Jones began to take advantage of what prison is supposed to offer: redemption. She started to study. She worked for 5 years in the prison law library, and became certified as a paralegal. Then she received a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in Indiana, all while behind bars. After that, she audited graduate-level classes at Indiana University. At that time, there was a college-behind-bars program in Indiana, but it has since been cancelled. The prison in which she was incarcerated had been established in 1873 and it was the first female prison in the United States. A former professor, who was working as a volunteer in that prison, encouraged her to research the history of the prison.
Research was just as difficult as getting her degrees, as she had no internet access and she had to know what books to ask to borrow from the university without ever having seen them, and then only receiving them a couple of months later. But she never gave up. She formed a team of other inmates who were interested in studying and researching, and they noticed that in the old days, no prostitutes were ever imprisoned. With Ms. Jones as team leader, the inmates decided to find out why. After much tedious research, they discovered that a Catholic laundry used to exist, and that it was actually a reformatory for “fallen women” – in other words, women convicted of sex offenses such as prostitution or unwed mothers. With much work and time, they uncovered more than 30 similar institutions around the country. These Catholic laundries were run on what we would today call slave labor.
Ms. Jones was able to publish her findings in an Indiana academic journal, and won the state historical society award for it. She also presented her work via video conferences at multiple historical conferences and for the state legislature. On top of that, she produced and presented research about abuse suffered by early inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison by its Quaker founders. Inmate No. 970554 became a published scholar. Besides these achievements, she wrote several historical plays and dance compositions, and one of her plays is going to open in an Indianapolis theater this December.
Because of her good behavior and her dedicated focus on studies and bettering herself, her sentence was reduced to 21 years. Knowing she would be released soon, Ms. Jones applied to eight colleges to enter a doctoral program. Harvard University was her first choice because she knew the reputation of certain historians there and admired them. Harvard accepted her into the history department, one of 18 students to be admitted from a pool of 300 candidates. The head of the history department said that she is “one of the strongest candidates in the country, period.” But soon after she received her acceptance notification, two Harvard professors questioned her admittance, claiming that she had minimized her crime “to the point of misrepresentation” in the letter accompanying her application. In that letter, she said that she had had a psychological breakdown after years of abandonment and domestic violence, and inflicted similar treatment on her own son, Brandon. She also wrote: “I have made a commitment to myself and to him that with the time I have left, I will live a redeemed life, one of service and value to others.”
Although Harvard allegedly likes diversity in their student body, they backtracked and reversed their decision. They have a policy of not commenting on student applications, but insiders have said that in this case, they were concerned about a backlash from rejected applicants and conservative news agencies. It is said that Harvard was also concerned about whether Ms. Jones would be able to face the challenge of going straight from prison into an Ivy League environment.
She was also rejected by Yale University, but officials there won’t comment on it. Meanwhile, other schools, such as the University of California and the University of Michigan, were recruiting her for their doctoral programs. She chose NYU, and the Indiana Women’s Prison released her 2 days early to begin her Ph.D. work in American Studies in New York City. After she had been accepted in NYU and before she was released from prison, NYU asked graduate students to send Ms. Jones welcoming notes on JPay, a prison e-mail app. But still, it won’t be easy. She will have a parole officer, and if that officer allows it, Ms. Jones would like to teach in NYU’s prison educational program, to remember where she has come from. She has said that she would also like to take a train to Cambridge, Massachusetts twice a month to sit in on Harvard seminars on the history of crime and punishment in America. It remains to be seen if Harvard will allow that.
For the last 10 years, there has been a campaign led by civil-rights groups that think the question about criminal records should be outlawed from college applications. Should it? In the case of Ms. Jones, there are many people who think that abusing and killing a child cannot be deleted by 20 years of good conduct in prison, and she shouldn’t even have been released, much less admitted to a prestigious university.
Her acceptance and subsequent rejection at Harvard also raises the question of how much we believe in the possibility of human redemption. Should a 45-year old woman who killed her child when she was a teenager be forgiven? Is forgiveness an option for a crime as serious as hers? Should a person’s life be defined by the worst thing that person ever did? And if it should, doesn’t that countermand the idea of rehabilitating prisoners?
We probably all agree that the purpose of jails and prisons is to act as deterrents to crime and to punish offenders. If we believe that they should also be a means to rehabilitation, we must consider our personal forgiveness capacities or beliefs. I would appreciate your opinions.
FYI is an acronym, and an acronym is a word formed by combining the first letters of each word of a name, such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) that is frequently seen in the news. Another one you probably know is AIDS, which is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Sometimes acronyms are pronounced as a word as in NATO and AIDS, and sometimes the letters are pronounced individually, such as FYI (for your information). And most of the time they are not even pronounced, as they are used mostly in social media, business communication and Internet. But we do hear CNN (Cable News Network) reporters saying ASAP frequently, which means As Soon As Possible and is hard to pronounce.
Sometimes acronyms become words, such as the word scuba. Everybody knows that word, but few know it started out as an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.
Another acronym that became a word is laser, which began as the acronym Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Most of us are very pleased that these two words became acronyms.
For now, try to incorporate FYI and ASAP into your daily communications, and don’t spend too much time remembering what AIDS and LASER and SCUBA really mean. But you should be able to recognize NATO as it has become a big issue in North America and Europe.
Here are six business acronyms that you should know if you are a businessperson, and maybe aspire to if you are in middle management. Which one would be the lowest stress and the highest salary?
Taking English classes with Betsy is a great pleasure.
She enriches her classes with her wonderful life story, which she happily shares with her students.
Classes are carefully and diligently prepared by Betsy according to the individual needs of each of her students, and always accompany reading material on fresh, new subjects.
She is a very enthusiastic and up-beat teacher, who imparts knowledge to her students through engaging and interesting discussions.
All in all, taking classes with Betsy is a very pleasant, enriching and memorable experience.
A Betsy é uma pessoa muito cativante e uma professora genial. Nós nos conhecemos há bastante tempo, quando eu estava começando a aprender inglês. Eu sempre admirei o jeito divertido que ela tem de ensinar. Ela é uma das pessoas mais antenadas que eu conheço e tem uma cultura geral impressionante. Adoro os textos personalizados que ela cria, o que faz com que as aulas sejam sempre surpreendentes. Eu simplesmente adoro as nossas aulas! Me sinto privilegiada.
Fui aluna da Betsy há muitos anos atrás em uma escola de idiomas em BH e quando descobri que ela continuava dando aulas, entrei em contato e já agendei meu horário semanal. Até retornar a ser aluna da Betsy, não tinha muita motivação para ir a aulas de inglês, porém, atualmente, digo que estou indo para a minha terapia em inglês. A Betsy é uma pessoa divertidíssima, muito culta e interessada. Sua curiosidade me impressiona. As aulas com ela fluem, abordamos os mais variados assuntos e de uma maneira leve consigo aprimorar meus conhecimentos em inglês e aprender novos vocabulários. Pode acompanhar suas aulas e publicações online vai ser sensacional!
I really don’t know how long Betsy has been my teacher. I do know she is the best teacher I have ever had. She can join daily happenings with an admirable sense of humor that makes her classes quite unique. She is intelligent, smart, very confident and besides everything she became a close friend of us. It’s a privilege being her student.