George Chochos at his graduation ceremony. (Photo by Jean Santopatre ’15 M.Div.)
What follows was written by George Chochos, who on May 23 earned his Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School. That is a major accomplishment for any Yale student, but for Chochos, it was especially sweet.
Just over 15 years ago, Chochos was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and began his formal college education through the Bard Prison Initiative. Today, he hopes to inspire others to overcome personal despair and realize the difference they can make in the world. This summer, he will serve as coordinator of the Yale President’s Public Service Fellowship program in the Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
George Chochos: Fifteen years ago I looked out of my prison cell in the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, NY. This prison sits on the majestic Hudson River, and my cell window offered a breathtaking view, except for one major flaw: I would have to see the prison bars along with the beauty of the Hudson.
These bars were a clear reminder of my status as a criminal, felon, and societal outcast. These bars motivated me to not just reflect on my life in ways that produced sorrow and remorse, but also to actively seek ways to change my life — so that, if given the opportunity to reenter society, I could do so in a way in which I would become an asset and not a liability to my community.
Education became my path to transforming my life. The Bard Prison Initiative and New York Theological Seminary’s Master of Professional Studies program offered me extraordinary educational opportunities to learn a new vocabulary by which to critically reflect upon my life and society — to search deep within my soul to find love, compassion, forgiveness, and purpose. I could never have imagined that an educational journey that began in a prison cell could lead to a place like Yale.
Source: Yale News, May 24, 2016