Dating former clients and ethics
Planning meetings were held in the same room as parole board hearings, a room that looks like any other conference room.
She was the woman to go to if a radio or iron broke. Wilkins worked in the mess hall, which meant waking every morning at four a.m., hefting heavy pots and mopping floors for seven hours, then lifting boxes all afternoon. dinner, the women returned to catalog the growing collection of books, which became the center’s academic library.Shortly before Wilkins arrived, several women had approached Elaine Lord, Bedford’s superintendent at the time, about reinstating the college program.With her approval, they began trying to find colleges that would offer courses despite the lack of funding.Looking back, Wilkins never imagined that she’d end up at Columbia University.In 1997, the 34-year-old Wilkins, or “Missy” as her friends call her, arrived at Bedford on a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.That afternoon, however bittersweet, transformed Wilkins’ life.
But the day wouldn’t have been possible if she and a group of other women confined at Bedford hadn’t taken charge and brought the higher education program back to life after it had been cut several years earlier when the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act eliminated Pell grants for prisoners.
The street life led to being the getaway driver for two men who attempted a gunpoint robbery.
But the women at Bedford weren’t quietly accepting the cut.
They found a liaison and advocate in Thea Jackson, a volunteer with the prison’s children and parenting programs.
Jackson approached her friend Regina Peruggi, then the president of Marymount Manhattan College.
They shared their own stories, describing the systemic forces that had prevented and discouraged them from pursuing education on the outside.