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Project Rebound Helps Former Inmates Adjust To College Life

Project Rebound helps people in California who’ve been incarcerated succeed in college. The program’s director Jennifer Leahy and Arnold Trevino, a graduate, tell NPR’s Scott Simon about the program.


The first four scholars from Fresno state’s Project Rebound graduated this month with their fellow students in the Class of 2017. Project Rebound helps former inmates adjust to college life. The program director Jennifer Leahy and a new graduate, Arnold Trevino, join us now from the studios of Valley Public Radio in Clovis, Calif. Thank you both very much for being with us.

JENNIFER LEAHY: Thank you for having us today.


SIMON: Mr. Trevino, you graduated with a degree in social work, I gather, right?

TREVINO: Yes, sir. I did.

SIMON: What was it like to stand up there and accept your degree?

TREVINO: Unbelievable. It still hasn’t really sunk in that it actually even happened. I’ve been pinching myself throughout the week and looking over the video that they had recorded just to make sure it was real. And I’m still not sure it even happened.

SIMON: You weren’t in prison for shoplifting, were you?

TREVINO: No, sir. I wasn’t.

SIMON: Tell us what got you there.

TREVINO: I went in for second-degree murder. I had went to a party and being out of control – drinking, using drugs – that night. I ended up getting in a fight. I lost the fight. I got angry with a guy for losing. And I came back an hour later. I didn’t give the guy a chance to even defend himself. And I stabbed him a couple of times. And he ended up dying five minutes later.

Six months later, I was convicted of second-degree murder. And I was given a 16-year to life sentence of which I served 25 years. I paroled six years ago. I had to do an additional six – five years on parole. I got off parole last year.

SIMON: What changed in your life?

TREVINO: Everything. Education changed my life. The first five years I was still uncertain what direction I wanted to follow. And it was just complete madness. I was at a maximum security prison. And it was just complete insanity. And I was just going with the flow.

And when some of my points dropped, I went down to a level three, medium security. They offered me educational programs and substance abuse programs. And I really, really wanted to change. And I just got involved.

SIMON: So you got out of prison. You went to Fresno State. And how did you find Project Rebound?

TREVINO: Project Rebound found me. I needed an internship in order to fulfill my social work requirements. And Project Rebound was a brand new program being instilled there at Fresno state. And they were looking for an intern, and I was looking for an internship.


LEAHY: So just to add there to what Arnold just said, we are a brand new program at Fresno State. But I would like to make it very clear that this program was founded in the late 1960s at San Francisco State by Dr. John Irwin. So we are part of an expansion. There are nine universities now – California state universities that have Project Rebound, including San Francisco State.

SIMON: What is it like, Ms. Leahy, when you have somebody come to a campus like Fresno State, and they’re surrounded by people who might be half their age, who – you know, they’re Joe College? (Laughter).

LEAHY: Yes. You get on campus and, like you said, you’re surrounded by individuals that you may not necessarily relate to. You’re older. You’re different. You have different experiences. And at some point, you have to reveal to this new friend who’s never been involved in the system that you have a felony. This is your parole officer, et cetera. And they become terrified of that – the rejection and social stigma that goes along with being involved in the system.

And so what we do is get these individuals together that have been there. We get them together for a variety of things as we identify needs. We’re going to have a digital workshop this summer for them. But it will have a social aspect to it so that they can build those friendships. And now you see those individuals in the quad, you know, together. And they’re not planning their next crime. They’re planning their next study session.

SIMON: Arnold Trevino, you want to be a social worker when you eventually have your masters?

TREVINO: Oh, you bet. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to work inside the prison system to show the other people that change is possible, and there is – you can continue with your life, a productive life regardless of your background.

Depending if you want it bad enough, you can see life through a whole different lens. You know, you can see through an academic lens. For those who are ready to quit living out of the bottle or quit living out of the spoon or the glass pipe, and if they’re ready to move on, there’s a whole world out here.

SIMON: Arnold Trevino, a Fresno State Bulldog now, and Jennifer Leahy was program director for Project Rebound, thank you both very much for being with us.

LEAHY: Thank you as well for having us.

TREVINO: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Scott Simon

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