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Photo by Monika Wnuk

Editor’s Note: Northwestern Magazine wrote about the Northwestern Prison Education Program inside Stateville Correctional Center in its spring 2020 issue, in which it provided the following update about how the Crest Hill, Ill. facility was dealing with the pandemic. For the full article, click here.

In March, Stateville Correctional Center was placed on lockdown to address a growing number of COVID-19 cases inside the prison. Prisons around the country have been hit hard by the pandemic. Close quarters, limited opportunity for social isolation and a lack of medical and cleaning supplies have made it difficult to contain the spread of the virus in these facilities.

While the prison responds to the medical needs of its residents, Northwestern faculty and student volunteers have not been allowed access to the prison or NPEP students. However, volunteers travel to Stateville regularly to deliver materials for three courses offered at the prison this quarter through written correspondence.

“My education means everything to me,” says Benard McKinley, an NPEP student who is enrolled in courses this quarter. “I’m glad that this pandemic can’t stop me from continuing my education.”

Volunteers also deliver weekly care packages for all NPEP students, containing letters of support and literature selections from the Northwestern community.

“We want the students to feel connected to the Northwestern community through this period of prolonged isolation,” says Jennifer Lackey, NPEP director.

To date, the Northwestern community of students, faculty and alumni has contributed to raising $30,000 to support NPEP students during the COVID-19 crisis. With that funding, NPEP volunteers have been able to deliver hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer, soap, surgical masks and gloves to both Stateville and Cook County Jail.

“This is uncharted territory for everyone,” says Lackey, “and NPEP faculty, students and staff are doing everything we can to provide support to our students during this unprecedented and difficult time.”


Corzell Cole is working on his redemption story.

During the 17 years he’s been behind bars, Cole has actively tried to make positive change for his community, his family and himself.

“The reality is that I wake up in prison every day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals,” he says.

Cole is a 36-year-old man with a gregarious demeanor and perfectly maintained hair that he learned to trim while working as a barber at his cousin’s barbershop in Joliet, Ill. In conversation, he’ll take any opportunity to bring up his kids — three sons who are 21, 20 and 17 years old.

“I’m parenting from the penitentiary,” says Cole. “My father wasn’t around when I was growing up, and I want to make sure that my sons won’t make the same mistakes I made.”

When Cole was 19, he was arrested on first-degree murder and attempted murder charges for his role as the driver in a shooting that killed a man and injured his teenage daughter. Cole was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He is contesting the conviction.

Corzell Cole is part of the inaugural cohort of Northwestern Prison Education Program students.

Almost two decades later, Cole is one of 42 men enrolled in the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) inside Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison for men in Crest Hill, Ill., located about an hour southwest of Chicago. (Click here for the full story)

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Monika Wnuk ’14 MS, ’19 MS is a writer and photographer in Northwestern’s Office of Global Marketing and Communications.