Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Remarks by Acting Commissioner Brian Fischer
Eastern Correctional Facility College Graduation Ceremony
February 3, 2007

I want to thank Bard College and Eastern Correctional Facility for inviting me here today. Seeing higher education being provided inside state prisons is personally important to me.

As the commissioner, I want to publicly thank Bard College, its teachers and financial supporters for bringing a college education to Eastern. To the families and friends of the inmates, I know how proud you are of them, as you should be. To Assemblyman Aubry, your award today (the John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service) is well deserved.

From my new perspective I want everyone to know that there is more going on here today than just the graduation of some hard working inmates. The event we're all sharing today confirms for me and the new governor two critical facts.

The first that given an opportunity, inmates can, and will, step forward on their own and make significant changes in their lives.

The second is that today's graduation proves that prisons can be places of education, personal growth and commitment on the part of those society often chooses to forget about.

It is critical for our society to support higher education, both inside and outside the prison environment, if America is to continue to be a world leader.

As for you, the graduates, I have a personal message. I know how hard you've worked to get here and I know the pressure you've been under. While I don't want to add to that pressure, I must.

Your accomplishment did not come about by itself. You owe a debt to many people, not the least of whom are the teachers from Bard College and the administration of Eastern. The debt must be repaid in two ways.

The first is that as long as you're in prison, and upon your release, you must continue your education and move on with your lives. If you do not remain true to yourself and those who have helped you, you will have done everyone a disservice.

The second repayment is that you need to reach out to other inmates in the system and show them the way out. You need to be the mentors and teachers of the next generation of inmates. You've been given an opportunity others have been denied. You need to help make that opportunity available to others who will follow up by encouraging others to demand an education. You owe it to your supporters, yourselves and to those inmates who yet to understand the value of an education.

Both I and Governor Spitzer congratulate each one of you for confirming the belief that while a prison may confine your body, it cannot confine the mind.