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ERIC Number: EJ989522
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Oct-29
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
From Cellblock to Campus, One Black Man Defies the Data
Patton, Stacey
Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct 2012
Walter Fortson never expected to finish college, especially as inmate 819161D at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility, in Hunterdon County, N.J. A few years ago, he chose to be a crack dealer to support his family and his reckless spending habits. He thought he was too smart to get caught, until one day in 2008 when he made a bad move. He was a 25-year-old black male driving through an Atlantic City public-housing project in an expensive red Chevrolet Suburban with gleaming chrome hubcaps and out-of-state tags. Thinking he looked suspicious, police officers pulled him over and found crack cocaine, marijuana, and two handguns in the SUV. Today, though, Mr. Fortson is an honor student in his senior year at Rutgers University at New Brunswick. While serving part of a six-year sentence for drugs and weapons offenses, he met a Rutgers historian who tutors inmates and runs a re-entry program that helps felons go from prison to college. Mr. Fortson is a rarity in higher education, for reasons that have to do with race, economics, expectations, and criminal-justice practices. As one of many young black men with a criminal history, he has been given a second chance. He is an exception to a rule which seems to dictate that punishment for a crime does not end when a felon leaves prison. A criminal conviction often creates barriers to voting, employment, and housing, and forecloses opportunities to attend college. By enrolling in a four-year college, Mr. Fortson is also defying higher education's gender gap, which touches all races and ethnic groups but is widest among black students. Mr. Fortson is thriving at Rutgers these days, with a 3.7 GPA. He's majoring in exercise physiology and giving speeches about his journey from cellblock to campus. He recently became the first convicted felon to be named a Truman Scholar, a national award that carries a $30,000 scholarship to help pay for graduate school. He hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. His ultimate goal is to work at a think tank on criminal-justice policy and incarceration.
Chronicle of Higher Education. 1255 23rd Street NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20037. Tel: 800-728-2803; Tel: 202-466-1000; Fax: 202-452-1033; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: New Jersey