Support me to continue my Education

My parents always stressed the importance of education to their six children but I grew up going to school in a neighborhood that was infested with drugs and plenty of crime. I got caught up in that life style. I got into trouble at an early age and eventually started using drugs and going back and forth between jail and prison.

Those days are far behind me. 

I have accomplished many things since being released from prison in 2012. Even though my criminal background made it hard for me to find work, I stayed focused on the commitments I made to my family and myself. I told everyone that this time would be different.

I enrolled at Harold Washington College in 2013 as a part-time student. While working full time, taking care of many family members including my ill mother, I strengthened my writing and research skills and learned from my coursework. I earned forty credit hours.   

I have always known that my survival, or my families, was not enough. I had to get involved and stay involved. Almost immediately after my release, I started speaking publicly about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I am no longer ashamed of my past, and I don’t mind sharing because stories are powerful, and they educate people. After time I became a coordinator of a group of formerly incarcerated women, Visible Voices a part of Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), and I facilitated the same group that I once a part of. As an organizer, I jumped right in and learned as much as I possible: how to build relationships, facilitate groups, create an agenda, and how to mobilize people to create positive policy changes. In 2014 CLAIM merged with Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and along with the merger came more responsibility. Within a few years I became the community organizer for CLAIM/CGLA. I regularly speak at colleges, universities, churches, and most importantly I have mentored and supported other formerly incarcerated women to take a stand. I develop and advocate for key pieces of legislation -- (RROCI) Restoring Rights and Opportunity Coalition of Illinois passed four bills last year and one this year which will help Illinoisans that have a criminal record reclaim their lives. 

In 2015 I joined the delegation to assess women’s prisons in Illinois, becoming the first formerly-incarcerated woman to serve in this role in the entire United States. I was selected as a 2016 Fellow for JustLeadershipUSA a national network for formerly incarcerated leaders.

In 2017 I applied to and was accepted to Northeastern University, in The University without Walls (UWW) Program. UWW is a competency-based, self-paced program that leads to a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. Requiring strong motivation, self-direction, maturity, self-sufficiency and clear academic direction on the part of the student, UWW is geared to meet the adult student’s learning needs and long range goals through a course of study that allows for curricular individuality. I expect to earn an undergraduate degree in May 2020!

I want to focus on public policy with an emphasis on working to support women and girls impacted by incarceration. I will continue to develop my work at Logan Correctional Center, and create the first inside/outside newsletter for women in prison in Illinois, and deepen my knowledge and skills about all facets of public policy. I want to be a stronger organizer for change, and a better mentor and advisor to grow the network of formerly incarcerated women in Illinois.

I have been accepted into the program, but now I must pay the tuition. The expectation costs of this program (tuition, books and fees), over the next two years, are approximately $10, 000.

Please help me continue my education and build the leadership, and the change; we know we need in Illinois.
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Colette Payne 
Chicago, IL