Our mistakes do not have to define us. They may well limit our futures, but here is a story about a man who has changed his life while in prison. https://portlandphoenix.me/degree-of-difficulty/?fbclid=IwAR1JtIlkC9RMP8OcG3wGLmGistSDmOsq0RGsnZUs0BIhk7-BgPynLmTpRm0  Brandon Brown’s crime affected many individuals in harmful ways, for sure. But his story did not end there. The ripple effect of his profound change while in prison is affecting and will continue to affect himself AND many other individuals–in a positive way.

It started with one change in him: his openness to the possibilities of learning and changing. Brown’s explorations led him to learn about just how much damage he’d done others, which in turn led him to want to do something about that. And he is doing just that and preparing for a very different life–not just down the line when he is released from prison but now while he is incarcerated.

(Accompanying photo of Brandon Brown by Jordan Bailey/Portland Phoenix)

Look at how Brown describes the way his professors in prison treated him and the effect it had on him–

“When I’m learning and when I’m reading these books, and when I’m interacting with the college professors who just treat us like regular students — we were not treated like inmates in those classes — I found a level of freedom through that that I had never even known before prison,” Brown said. “And I think education allowed me to ask questions that I never asked myself before, like what’s my purpose in this world? And even though I’m in prison, is there still some way that I can live a meaningful life and contribute to the world outside, and can I contribute when I get out, too?” 

Classroom teachers from K through graduate school can impact the lives of their students. We know that and we give lip service to that truth, but we can forget how utterly life-changing that can be. As crucial as teachers are, and as important as educational programs are, everything hinges on the learner being ready for the experience and taking steps.

When it works, real learning amounts to more than an individual adding a new skill or acquiring new knowledge. They’re different. Think Brandon Brown merely earned some credits and passed some exams?  Here’s another excerpt from Jordan Bailey’s article in the Portland (ME) Phoenix.

He also sought to contribute to life on the inside, by participating in other programs the prison offered. He was the first inmate to get a dog in a dog-training program through the Humane Society of Knox County. He participated in a program called “Reflections,” in which inmates write letters to their younger selves. He volunteered for the prison hospice program, became a certified yoga instructor, and served as president of the prison branch of the NAACP. 

I love the expression: Never give up, Never give in. We should apply it to EVERYONE. We should do everything we can so that we don’t leave anyone behind–even those who’ve done wrong. Such people just might be the next Brandon Brown.

Love the turning points in his story. In OPEN ADMISSIONS, I chronicle such moments in the lives of my community college students. If you haven’t read it, check it out. Available on line at Amazon.


Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on nedbachus.com. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/1901eAdvocate_ThrivingFinal.pdf



Love his story. Remember his name. Brandon Brown. Learning is changing.