COLLEGE UNBOUND: Tell me about your project.
FRED BRISSETTE: My project is the Freedom Project, which provides re-entry support for people coming home from the prison system. We provide peer-to-peer support and an 8-week life enhancement program where we teach basic life skills – writing a resume, job application completion, and more. Individuals can then take part in our 16-week job readiness program where we perform mock interviews and assist students with learning proper communication skills. A lot of what we teach in these programs are similar to College Unbound’s Big 10. The Freedom Project also provides support with family unification.
What has been the response from formerly incarcerated individuals?
We’ve gotten big positive responses for our family reunification support, particularly with mothers who are trying to get their children back. The Freedom Project has established a trust with some of Rhode Island’s social agencies. Two women actually got supervised visitation rights after participating and completing the programs at the Freedom Project.
How do you stay motivated while working on the Freedom Project?
The biggest motivation is showing people that you do not need to become a victim. Life presents roadblocks for the formerly incarcerated. Some people come home from the prison system and they let the roadblocks keep them down. I was in prison for 15 years but once I got out, I never lost the motivation. If I can keep going, why not them?
How many individuals have participated in the Freedom Project’s programs? Where do you want to take your project?
For the past 2 and a half years that the Freedom Project has been up and running, we have helped over 200 individuals. Only 1 of those individuals went back to prison. As for the next steps, we are looking into the process to become our own non-profit.
I heard you were receiving an award. Can you tell me about that?
I graduated from College Unbound a few weeks ago; the first in my family to do that! On top of that, at graduation, I will be inducted into the National Honors Society.
How did you come to College Unbound (CU) and what effects have you seen in your life as a result of being at CU?
I started the path to a bachelor’s degree in prison. I earned my GED In there, graduating in the top 10th percentile of my class. Then I was transferred to another building where I signed up for college classes with CCRI. It took me 6 years to get an associate’s degree. When I came home, I was referred to [Former Director of CU’s Prison Work] James Monteiro. He became a mentor to me, and really pushed me to keep my education going. I was reluctant at first because he would talk to me about College Unbound and it just sounded like I was being sold a dream. But then I got to see some of the classes and it was really like family. I applied right after that. Now I’m graduating and have plans to continue onto getting my master’s degree.
In the spirit of giving back and using your voice to help others, who would you like to spotlight for helping you and your project thus far?
I have to say James because he really helped me. Also, Anthony Sanders, who was my advisor. All of the advisors have been really supportive. They’re ready to help you out. Having people like [CU’s Case Manager] Wanda around to give you a shoulder to cry on is so powerful. It’s like family over here. There’s no judgement.