Prior to 1994, there were more than 350 college programs inside U.S. prisons. However, in 1994 Congress abolished Pell grants for all incarcerated persons, and New York State followed course, eliminating all college degree programs at New York State correctional facilities. To combat this profound loss, a consortium of incarcerated men at Sing Sing, college educators, community leaders, and dedicated volunteers created Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison in 1998, privately funding programs and services.
Explore a detailed timeline of our organizational history below.
Hudson Link for Higher Education is founded in the wake of elimination of federal Pell and Tap grants
The 1990s ushered in a new “get tough on crime” initiative that dominated local and national politics for a decade. Hudson Link for Higher Education is founded in the wake of the elimination of Federal Pell and Tap grants.
Despite considerable evidence of its positive effects, support for higher education in prisons was collapsing around the country. Federal Pell grants that were once readily available to incarcerated men and women – and provided nearly all of the funding for college programs in prisons – were eliminated. Most states, including New York, also barred incarcerated men and women from state-level tuition assistance programs. As a result, 350 college education programs in prisons across America were reduced to just eight by the turn of the century.
Knowing the devastating effect this would have on prison morale, a group of men at Sing Sing Correctional Facility approached religious and academic volunteers for help. In January of 1998, Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison was formed to spearhead the restoration of college education in prison. Through private donations and grants from foundations and religious institutions, Hudson Link created a post-secondary education program in conjunction with Nyack College at Sing Sing. The classrooms inside the facility look and feel the same as traditional college campuses: chalkboards, posters of famous authors on the walls, and the familiar all-in-one desk and chair sets that, ironically, are made by fellow inmates at facilities across the state.
Hudson Link/Nyack College hosts the first commencement ceremony at Sing Sing Correctional Facility
The sounds of a violin concerto ushered in 17 students who marched proudly through the visiting room at Sing Sing in celebration of Hudson Link’s first-ever college graduation ceremony on October 19, 2001.
The graduates received their Bachelor’s degrees in Organizational Management from Nyack College as family, friends, and supporters looked on with pride.
Nyack College President David Schroeder spoke proudly about the graduates’ accomplishments and the tremendous transformation that had taken place inside the prison walls. Hudson Link remains grateful to Nyack College as its founding and stalwart college partner.
Hudson Link formed a second partnership with Mercy College shortly after the first Nyack College graduation, and the first group of Mercy students were on their way to achieving an Associate’s degree in Behavioral Science.
Hudson Link/Mercy College hosts their first commencement ceremony at Sing Sing Correctional Facility
With a flutist playing in the background and in front of a room full of family members and friends, 23 students at Sing Sing received their Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Behavioral Science from Hudson Link/Mercy College. Venerable actor Ossie Davis delivered the commencement address and referred to the graduates as his sons, saying that he “felt like a proud father.” Superintendent Brian Fischer delivered the keynote speech and spoke about the graduates’ personal commitment to transformation. “Each and every one of them realized that they could not change the past, but could change the future,” Fischer said.
Using sign language to begin his address, Class of 2004 Valedictorian Nigel Lawrence said, “Education has changed our world…and language has a purpose, language has power, language builds bridges, connects lives, transcends boundaries and invades silence.” Nigel’s speech resonated with the graduates and the audience, giving powerful testimony to the transformation that takes place through the power of higher education.
Hudson Link is in the news. WRNN-TV produces a news special about the college program at Sing Sing
WRNN-TV news correspondent Tara-Lynn Wagner, attends the Sing Sing Correctional Facility’s Hudson Link/Mercy commencement ceremony and speaks with inmates about how the program has transformed their lives.
Tara Lynn states, “seeing the men receive their diplomas is proof of the program’s success. Knowing that none of the graduates that have been released have returned to prison is doubly so. Hudson Link has proven that education has the power to transform the lives of men in prison.”
To quote Dr. Anne Reissner, founder of Hudson Link, “Education equals hope.”
Hudson Link forms Alumni Youth Assistance Program to speak to young people about choices and the consequences of criminal behavior
Hudson Link and its alumni partner with residential programs, middle and high schools in Westchester County, New York City and the five boroughs to speak with young people about the consequences of their choices and criminal behavior. This innovative program brings alumni who have been released from prison into the classroom, where they also screen Hudson Link’s documentary Zero Percent to help break the cycle of incarceration and prevent youth from entering the juvenile and criminal justice system.
Hudson Link alumni engage in interactive discussions with youth on topics which include: who they were as people before they were incarcerated, what they believed about themselves and their futures, the struggles of peer and gang pressure, the pressure to survive in adverse conditions, the consequences of poor choices and the power of education and how it transformed their lives.
Hudson Link launches Alumni Services Program to provide reentry support to graduates after release from prison
Recognizing the importance of a strong support network, Hudson Link launches a unique and innovative program focused on helping alumni successfully transition back into their families and communities. The goals of the Alumni Program are to increase employment opportunities, strengthen the relationships between alumni, their families and their communities and reduce the risk for re-incarceration.
The Alumni Services Program provides the following: job readiness services, interview attire, laptop computers, mentoring, networking dinners and events, alumni resources guide to assist with the transition from prison to the community, connections to fellow alumni to help navigate the unique challenges of reentry and links to partner reentry organizations for much needed transitional services.
Hudson Link expands to Taconic Correctional Facility for women
For the first time ever, Hudson Link expands college programming to a medium security women’s correctional facility.
Partnering with Mercy, Nyack and Vassar Colleges, Hudson Link offers college preparatory and college classes as well as the Inside Out College Program at the Taconic Correctional Facility. This unique program starts with pre-college Math and English classes to prepare students for the challenges of a college-level curriculum. Once completed, students attend lower and upper-level college classes which fit requirements for an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. The goal is for the women to have completed approximately 30 college credits upon release from prison so they have a solid foundation to complete their degrees on the outside.
Hudson Link starts life skills program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility
Motivated by the men at Sing Sing, Hudson Link launches a monthly speaker series called “Ripples of Hope.” Professionals from the community visit Sing Sing one Friday per month to lead seminars and workshops on topics such as: resume writing, effective oral and presentation skills, career development, leadership and goal setting, etiquette, dress for success, financial management, professionalism and productive relationships in the workplace.
Hudson Link expands to Fishkill Correctional Facility
Nyack College partners with Hudson Link to sponsor a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management at the medium-security Fishkill Correctional Facility for men.
This progressive program provides a fast-track for students to complete their college degrees in 18 months, and a unique pathway for men to transition from a maximum to medium security prison and complete their Bachelor’s degrees prior to release.
Students are required to have completed a minimum of 60 college credits from an accredited institution of higher learning in order to be accepted. The cohort of students attend classes 4 days per week over a period of 18 months. More than 70 men apply to the program and 17 applicants are accepted.
Hudson Link starts College Preparatory Program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility
Recognizing that many new students are unprepared for college-level work and struggle in the first semester of college, Hudson Link launches a College Preparatory School at Sing Sing Correctional Facility to prepare students for the rigors of college coursework.
Prep school is an intensive one-year, six-course program with classes held Monday through Friday. The curriculum is focused on remedial Math and English, Sociology, History, Current Events, study skills, and time management. More than 200 applicants apply and 26 are selected to participate in the first cohort.
World premiere of the Hudson Link documentary Zero Percent at the Dallas International Film Festival
With Zero Percent, Moxie Pictures Director Tim Skousen goes inside Hudson Link’s college program at Sing Sing. Hudson Link students are men who have come to appreciate the full impact of their life-altering crimes, on others and themselves. And while it may be years before these men see life outside the prison walls, they know their only hope for a productive, redeemed life is through sheer determination to transform their lives for the better.
The driving force behind Hudson Link’s success is the men and women who were once incarcerated themselves – people with first-hand experience on the impact of mental and emotional rehabilitation on their lives, their families and their communities.
The film’s title, Zero Percent, refers to the fact that not a single Hudson Link graduate has been re-incarcerated for a new crime within 3 years of release from prison. With a national recidivism rate of over 60%, “Zero Percent” provides real-life evidence of the far-reaching positive effects of the Hudson Link program.
Director Tim Skousen and Hudson Link Executive Director Sean Pica attend the world premiere of Zero Percent at the Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) on April 1, 2011, and participate in a panel discussion following the screening.
Zero Percent is the recipient of the first-ever Embrey Family Foundation Silver Heart Award at DIFF, honored for “their dedication to fighting injustices and creating social change for the improvement of humanity.” The presenter gave the film high praise and talked about the theme of redemption and the overwhelming power of education.
Zero Percent has gone on to win many accolades from film festivals across the country, including:
- Silver Heart Award at the Dallas International Film Festival
- Best of Festival at the Arlington International Film Festival
- Best Documentary at the BET Urbanworld, Breckenridge, Bronx, and Las Vegas Film Festivals
- Audience Award at the Anthem Film Festival
- Human Spirit Award at the Ojai Film Festival
- Cinematography Award at the Los Angeles Reel Film Festival
- Award of Excellence from The Indie
Hudson Link/Nyack College hosts first commencement ceremony at Fishkill Correctional Facility
The unforgettable strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” ushered in the first Hudson Link/Nyack College commencement ceremony at Fishkill Correctional Facility. Thirteen men marched proudly through a room of family, friends, and supporters to receive their Bachelor of Science degrees in Organizational Management from Nyack College President Michael Scales.
Prior to the commencement, three graduates were released from prison. Acknowledging the determination and commitment required to complete their Bachelor’s degrees under adverse conditions and the impact that this accomplishment would have on the students, their families, and the prison population, the Department of Corrections granted permission for the men to attend the commencement and participate in the festivities with their fellow graduates.
Keynote speaker Glenn Martin, Vice President of Development at the Fortune Society, spoke about the choices that each of us makes and how the graduates’ choice to attend college opened the door to transformation and redemption. Brian Fischer, Commissioner for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, spoke about responsibility – the responsibility our graduates to make the right choices going forward and their responsibility to help the students behind them to succeed – to “pay it forward.”
Students shared their riveting life stories with the audience throughout the evening. Their ability to persevere in the face of adversity and reach significant academic achievements moved everyone in the audience.
Hudson Link expands college programming to Sullivan Correctional Facility
Hudson Link joins forces with SUNY Sullivan Community College to launch an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Humanities at maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility for men. The curriculum focuses on English, History, Psychology, Sociology and the sciences, building the foundation for students to transfer to a four-year degree granting program. Receiving more than 150 applications from incarcerated men in correctional facilities across the state, Hudson Link and SUNY Sullivan select 24 students to participate in the first cohort.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility hosted TEDxSingSing, an independently organized TED event
TEDxSingSing was the first TEDx event held in a New York State prison. With the theme “Creating Healthy Communities,” speakers explored a variety of perspectives including individual, physical, mental, and emotional health and how to work together to build a nourishing and supportive community, even in a maximum security prison like Sing Sing. Twenty-two dynamic speakers including Ice-T, Hill Harper, Gina Belafonte, Majora Carter, Bryonn Bain, Dan Slepian, Sing Sing Superintendent Michael Capra, Carnegie Hall Musical Connections and incarcerated men at Sing Sing captivated the audience speaking about topics such as The Ambient Existence of Music, Shaping the Future from the Inside, Echoes of an Urban Desert, Creating a WE Nation, Transcending Mental Bars, and Surviving on the Inside.” The event was filmed by acclaimed producer and director Jonathan Demme with assistance from the Jacob Burns’ Film Center. To view TEDxSingSing videos, please click here.
TED is a global community devoted to the power of ideas to help change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world. The concept has become so popular in recent years that TED launched TEDx, a program that helps organizations independently organize their own events based on the TED model: A gathering of individuals to share ideas with one another in the form of a sequence of carefully curated talks on a variety of topics. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.
Hudson Link announces the development of a partnership with Siena College and the medium-security Greene Correctional Facility to offer college and pre-college programs
Emphasizing the importance of college preparatory education in long-term academic success, the program at Greene contains both a pre-college and college component. The Pre-College program is an intensive two-semester session, spanning the Spring and Summer 2014 terms and follows the Hudson Link pre-college curriculum which has had a tremendously positive impact on its students at Sing Sing. Hudson Link offers a degree-track program designed to provide students at Greene with the core courses necessary to obtain a college degree.
Director’s Cut of ZERO PERCENT is released
The award-winning HBO documentary chronicling the college degree program at Sing Sing is released in DVD and download formats. To purchase ZERO PERCENT, please click here.
The University of Sing Sing
Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison is proud to be featured in the HBO Documentary Films “The University of Sing Sing.” The 40-minute film takes viewers inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where roughly 1,700 men serve time, often for violent crimes. The men explain the crimes that brought them to Sing Sing, the world they left behind and how education has changed their outlook on life. The film shows the transformative power of education as the men work toward a Mercy College degree through Hudson Link, a privately funded non-profit organization that offers college education, life skills and reentry support to incarcerated men and women to help them make a positive impact on their own lives, their families and communities resulting in lower rates of recidivism, incarceration and poverty. Click here to watch at trailer of The University of Sing Sing.
Hudson Link’s first-ever graduating class at Sullivan Correctional Facility
An emotional commencement ceremony is held for 12 men who graduated from the State University of New York at Sullivan with an Associates degree in Liberal Arts. Speakers include Kathleen “Kitty” Vetter, Sullivan County Legislator and Eugene “Gene” Benson, Sullivan County Legislator, both of whom were visiting the facility for the first time.
The graduates completed the program in just two and a half years, record time for a program within a correction facility. All the men graduated with honors and the SUNY Sullivan staff was extremely impressed by their success and dedication to the program, which was a hallmark of the cohort. Together they maintained a supply of water bottles to ensure that professors were properly hydrated and created a student advisory committee to promote the program to the men at the facility. They also offered tutoring sessions on Saturdays and Sundays in the yard to make sure the men of Cohort 2 successfully completed their college preparation courses. The personal transformation of the men was also noticed by the corrections officers, who were impressed by the leadership skills the students in the program exhibited.
The students’ success and hard work in promoting the Hudson Link college program to others created a waiting list of over 25 prospective students for Cohort IV.
Partnership with Columbia University
Hudson Link partners with Columbia University to offer college-level courses at Sing Sing and Taconic Correctional Facilities. Columbia University is one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields. This is the first Ivy League institution to partner with Hudson Link and to offer classes inside prison walls.
Sean Pica on the Pope’s Visit in Prison airs on MSNBC
Hudson Link Executive Director Sean Pica joins Rev. Serene Jones and Joe Watkins to discuss Pope Francis’ address to prisoners in Philadelphia.
Sean Pica and Nyack College President Dr. Michael Scales visit the White House
Hudson Link Executive Director Sean Pica joins Nyack College President Dr. Michael Scales on a visit to the White House along with other college and university officials to sign a historic pledge supporting higher education for formerly incarcerated people.
Representatives from 15 higher education public and private institutions from across the country, including Hudson Link partners Nyack College and Columbia University, stood with Pica and U.S. Secretary of Education John King in the West Wing to sign the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, which removes unnecessary barriers to a college education for formerly incarcerated people. “We know that African-American and Latino young people and adults are overrepresented in our prison population and among folks who have criminal records. I think this will help those who have a criminal record have an opportunity to access higher education,” King said.
“This is a life-changing moment in history for institutions of higher learning and the formerly incarcerated,” said Pica. “President Obama continues his groundbreaking support of criminal justice reform and New York is once again on the vanguard of these historic initiatives.”
Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council; Geraldine Downey, Vice Provost for Columbia University; and Nyack College Provost David Turk were also in attendance for the historic pledge, which has been signed by a total of 25 institutions. The White House prepared a fact sheet which contains Columbia University’s pledge to “support access to college education and employment for those who need a second chance and, more broadly, for those from communities bearing the brunt of mass incarceration.”
PBS “First Degree” Movie Released
Infamous as the birthplace for the saying “being sent up the river,” Sing Sing correctional facility is now home to Hudson Link, an innovative “college behind bars.” PBS movie, First Degree, follows three incarcerated students as they pursue degrees, mentor at-risk youth, and prepare for life on the outside. In the process, the film offers compelling evidence of the redemptive power of education. Watch the video trailer, click here.
Grand Opening of the Doris E. Buffett Building for Higher Education in Prison
On September 29, 2016, Hudson Link hosted a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in celebration of the grand opening of the Doris E. Buffett Building for Higher Education in Prison – the new, permanent home of Hudson Link.
Through the generosity of Doris Buffett and the Sunshine Lady Foundation, Hudson Link purchased an historic building at 23 State Street, conveniently located less than a mile away from Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
The building, which was built in 1878, was once home to the Mt. Pleasant Military Academy Library. Today, it serves as home to Hudson Link’s college-in-prison and alumni reentry services programs.
Hudson Link Expands to Shawangunk Correctional Facility
Ulster Community College has partnered with Hudson Link at Shawangunk Correctional Facility to offer an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. This program offers ample opportunity for exploration for those who want to acquire a broad cultural background.
January 24, 2018
History in the Making: Congratulations to the First Ever Class of Graduates at Taconic
Wednesday, January 24th marked a groundbreaking moment in Hudson Link’s history, when associate degrees were awarded to six of our students inside Taconic Correctional Facility.
Friends and family of the graduates gathered to celebrate along with representatives from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci, Taconic Superintendent Tanya Mitchell-Voyd, and Director of Education Emily Bessette each shared words of wisdom and expressions of heartfelt congratulations on the students’ achievements.
The day’s keynote address was delivered by Starshell, a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who has collaborated with the likes of Kanye West and Jennifer Lopez. She wished the graduates a “happy birthday,” likening their achievement to a rebirth and encouraging the women to look forward to their future achievements as if it was their first day on earth.
The ceremony also marked the first time that one of the six grads had returned to Taconic since her release. Now home, Shelly said she couldn’t miss the opportunity to walk with her Hudson Link class. “This experience was amazing,” she told Alumni Coordinator Todd Young after being greeted with hugs and smiles by classmates and Taconic staff alike. “To know that I had the courage to go back in, I’m so proud of myself and how far I’ve come. Hudson Link gives me the motivation to keep on striving. This is not the end for me and I will not stop here. My daughter was so proud of me!”
Hudson Link’s staff and board share these sentiments – in fact, we could not be prouder of the six graduates and the 37 women still pursuing their degrees with us at Taconic.