NORTHRIDGE, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The coronavirus pandemic has impacted life for many college students, but if you have a criminal record, going to college was already a challenge.
"I didn't know there was actual programs that help formerly incarcerated people. That's something that should be super advertised," said Maria Martinez, a senior at Cal State University Northridge.
Martinez is a part of CSUN's program Project Rebound, which helps people with criminal records get an education at universities in California.
"The idea is to establish a network across the CSU to support people that are incarcerated, you know, have a vision for their life after incarceration. And folks that are out to support them, once they're in higher ed, provide a network," said Martha Escobar, the executive director of Project Rebound at CSUN.
Project Rebound was founded in 1967, and CSUN just launched a Project Rebound program this semester after having similar programs before.
Lily Gonzalez from South Central Los Angeles, and Maria Martinez from East Los Angeles were not only incarcerated before coming to CSUN, they were incarcerated together.
"We were both housed in 2100, which was the solitary confinement, high power unit. And that's where we met and she was in the cell above me, I was in the cell below her. And you know, we are locked down in a cell 23 hours a day. So contrary to what many people believe, like you do, to an extent you come to depend on the person above you or below you," said Lily Gonzalez, program coordinator for Project Rebound at CSUN.
Even though these two had a hard time when they both got out, they said programs like Project Rebound help.
"Telling people about my past at first, I didn't like telling anyone. But then like Project Rebound, Revolutionary Scholars, I met a lot of people that didn't care about my past, you know, like, they wanted to help me be better," said Martinez.
The project helps formerly incarcerated students sign up for classes, look for financial aid, and find mentors to help them stay on track with school. Ultimately, helping those who were formerly incarcerated reintegrate as best they can back into society.