The Prison Education Project is proud to present the inaugural Maggie Garb virtual Lecture Series.

This lecture series features dynamic scholars, practitioners, grassroots organizers, and impacted students from across the country who will provide a 30-minute mini-lecture on this year’s theme, “The Power of Higher Education in Prison.” Additionally, this series will feature an hour-long lecture from a system impacted grassroots organizer Syrita Steib.

This virtual lecture series is made possible by the Maggie Garb Foundation.

2021 Program

Monday, October 11, 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. CST 

Dr. Breea Willingham

Sisters of Carceral Liberation: Building a Movement of Social Justice for and About Black Women in Higher Education in Prison

Dr. Breea Willingham is an interdisciplinary scholar and criminal justice professor whose teaching and research examines the intersections of race, gender, higher education, and the criminal injustice system. She is particularly interested in examining Black women’s experiences with higher education in prison, and amplifying the voices of Black women impacted by the injustice system.

Influenced by her experiences as a sister and aunt of two men serving life sentences, Dr. Willingham’s research also focuses on the societal ramifications of mass incarceration, especially its impact on families. She has presented her research at academic conferences nationally and internationally, and given lectures at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Willingham is a co-founder of the Jamii Sisterhood, LLC, an organization that offers a safe and innovative space for Black women in higher education in prison. She is also the Managing Editor of the new Journal for Higher Education in Prison, a peer-reviewed journal that publishes solely on the topics and issues in higher education in prison. Dr. Willingham is writing a book about higher education in women’s prisons.

Tuesday, October 12, 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. CST 

Dr. Christopher Beasley

Third Order Change: Building a Brighter Future by Investing in Our Incarcerated Leaders’ Education

Dr. Beasley is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Tacoma, where he studies transitions from prison to college, leads the development of the Husky Post-Prison pathways initiative, and advises the Formerly Incarcerated Student Association. His scholarly work emphasizes the possibilities incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people imagine for themselves, influences on these possibilities, and how they alter life courses. Dr. Beasley has also spoken extensively about the role of people with lived expertise in the creation of social change and ways to realize this potential.  He’s invested in this scholarship because of his own transition from prisoner to social change agent and scholar. Dr. Beasley attended community college after leaving prison and “cut his social justice chops” fighting for queer liberation as an undergraduate student in the early 2000’s. He began organizing and supporting formerly incarcerated college students as a graduate student in the 2010’s and co-founded the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network in 2014–an organization that now has over 1000 members across 44 states and 10 countries. In addition to his scholarship, Dr. Beasley currently focuses on investing in student leaders while creating systems and structures in which they can realize their potential. He also serves as Board Director for both the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network and From Prison Cells to Ph.D.

Wednesday, October 13, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. CST 

Keynote Speaker:

Syrita Steib


Syrita started Operation Restoration in 2016 to eradicate the roadblocks she faced when returning to society after incarceration. Syrita serves as the Executive Director and is responsible for overseeing the administration, programs, and strategic plan of the organization. She created Operation Restoration because of her experience with the legal system. At the age of 19, Syrita was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison. After serving nearly 10 years in prison, she was released into a community vastly different than the one she left. Other formerly incarcerated women helped her to re-adjust to the world she had left behind.

She is also the founder and Executive Director of Opportunity 2 Restore, an advocacy organization founded in 2019 with the mission of positioning formerly incarcerated women to lead policy changes in the legal system. In 2019, Syrita created Pink Fable & Co. a for profit entity that provides meaningful employment opportunities and training to formerly incarcerated women contracting with production companies to facilitate waste removal and recycling and donating reusable items to non-profit organizations and people in need in Southeastern Louisiana.

Syrita’s commitment to removing barriers and expanding opportunities for formerly incarcerated women is fueled by her experiences after release. Despite her academic accomplishments while incarcerated, Syrita was initially denied admission at the University of New Orleans due to the criminal history question. Two years later she reapplied and unchecked the box and was granted admission. Syrita went on to earn her B.S. from Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and is a

nationally certified and licensed Clinical Laboratory Scientist. In 2017, Syrita along with partners wrote, advocated and successfully passed Louisiana Act 276 which prohibits public post-secondary institutions in Louisiana from asking questions relating to criminal history for purposes of admissions, making Louisiana the first state to pass this type of legislation.

Syrita’s recent accomplishments include being the co-chair for the healthy families committee for New Orleans Mayor Cantrell’s transition team in 2018. She was also a panelist on the Empowerment stage at Essence Festival in 2018 and 2019. Syrita was a policy consultant for Cut50’s Dignity for Incarcerated Women campaign and worked tirelessly on the passage of the First Step Act that passed in late 2018. She was appointed by the Governor to the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment oversight council and served as the Vice-chair for the Louisiana Task Force on Women’s Incarceration. She also helped create and was featured in the Newcomb Art Museum’s Per(Sister) exhibit which shared the stories of currently and formerly incarcerated women. She is a 2020 Rubinger Fellow; and a member of the second cohort of Unlock Futures (a collaboration between John Legend, Bank of America and New Profit), and 2020 Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Angel Awardee. In January 2021, Syrita received a full presidential pardon. She regularly speaks at conferences and facilitates conversations across the nation about the experiences of incarcerated women and the importance of true economic equity and what racial equity truly means.

Thursday, October 14, 3:00 – 3:30 p.m. CST 

Dr. Grant Tietjen

Cutting through the stereotypes of incarcerated people: The benefits of student mentorship and support networks inside prison

Grant E. Tietjen, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the St. Ambrose University–Davenport Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, and also has direct criminal justice system contact. Professor Tietjen earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He has written, researched, and lectured on convict criminology, mass incarceration, class inequality, criminological theory, and pathways to correctional/postcorrectional education. He has published in multiple peer reviewed journals, book chapters, and academic encyclopedias; with multiple works in progress. Tietjen’s most recent peer reviewed research has been published in The Prison Journal, and Critical Criminology. Additionally, he has given over 60 conference presentations, invited talks/public forums, and media interviews. Tietjen has been involved with the Convict Criminology (CC) group since 2005, mentoring new CC members, and serving as the group’s Co-Chair from 2017-2019.  Further, in 2020, he was appointed the inaugural Chair of the newly formed American Society of Criminology Division of Convict Criminology. 

Friday, October 15, 12:00 – 12:30 p.m. CST 

Terrell Blount, M.P.A

Prioritizing Higher Education and Career Goals in Prison & Reentry

Terrell A. Blount is a motivational speaker, mentor, and advocate for quality postsecondary education and career opportunities and policy change affecting justice-involved people. Approaching the completion of a 6-year sentence, Terrell pursued his goal of graduating with a college degree, which he set for himself years before being released from prison.  “I just kept telling myself: ‘If I can do five years in prison, I can do five years in college’”. Soon, he found himself a BA graduate of the School of Communication & Information (SCI) and later, achieving his MPA in Nonprofit Management from the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA), both at Rutgers University.

Today, he serves as the director of the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network, a nonprofit organization supporting postsecondary education attainment among justice-involved individuals, while connecting formerly incarcerated students and professionals across the country. A leader in the higher education and justice space, Terrell participates on various steering committees and advisory boards and has experience in policy change and advocacy, program administration, philanthropy, and college reentry programs. 

Monday, October 18, 12:00 – 12:30 p.m. CST 

Bryan Love Jordan

The Transformative and Rehabilitative Power of Higher Education in Prison

My name is Bryan Jordan.  I was born and raised in the city of New Haven, CT.  I am the oldest of 5 siblings-2 brothers and 2 sisters.  After dropping out of high school, I received my GED while incarcerated in 1994.  However, in 2016-while serving a sentence that would later be overturned-I was accepted into Second Chance Educational Alliance to pursue Higher Education in prison.  Subsequently, I went on to be 1 of 600 inmates to apply and be accepted into Yale University.  Since my release, I’ve begun the enrollment process into Yale in pursuit of a law degree.

Wednesday, October 20, 12:00 – 12:30 p.m. CST 

Em Daniels, M.S.

Trauma, Incarceration, and Ability to Learn: Rediscovering Learning as Adults

Em Daniels is a master educator and leading expert on the impacts of trauma on adult learning.  They are a skilled facilitator and speaker, with an extensive background in adult education that includes alternative high schools, prisons, free college campuses, private and non-profit organizations, government institutions, and community agencies.  Their expertise focuses on countering the impacts of trauma on learning by expanding beyond a mental health approach and defining multiple points of entry to the work.  Daniels emphasizes the necessity of addressing individual and systemic trauma as crucial to create and sustain a just and compassionate world.

Daniels holds a Master’s of Science in Teaching, General Arts and Letters (Portland State University), a B.A. in Communications (University of North Carolina – Charlotte), and is author of the forthcoming book “Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Corrections Classroom.”  Any person who provides direct service to others, especially those who may have extensive trauma histories, can benefit from Daniels’ discussion of praxis.  Potential audiences include adult educators, managers, and administrators, direct service and front line staff, corrections and legal professionals, and peer mentors and leaders.