Inmates at Lancaster prison earn bachelor's degrees

LANCASTER, Calif. (KABC) -- For Aaron Benson, it's been a hard time behind bars. Becoming a college graduate is one step toward changing his life.

Benson was one of the inmates in Lancaster on Tuesday who participated in the first ever Cal State graduation ceremony held inside a state prison.

"None of us thought this would be possible and we faced a lot of adversity in our lives and in here," he said. "I'm so proud of everybody."

Benson was one of several prison inmates who sported the cap and gown at California State Prison, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication studies through an educational partnership with Cal State L.A.

Prison inmate and graduate Jason Keaton said he can't believe it really happened. He said he has plans for the future.

"It's upon me to get myself together and then go back to the community that I helped tear down, and help build that community up," Keaton said.

Twenty-three prison inmates who turned away from a life of crime are now college graduates.

"I can't change what happened in the past, but all I can do is change what I'm doing now," inmate and graduate Dara Win said.

Assistant professor Kamran Afary says he's been teaching courses at the prison since 2017. He's not only teaching classes via Zoom, but also providing instruction at the prison.

"It's an unbelievable moment. We've watched these people - the transformation that has taken place over the last four years and all the hard work, the dedication," Afary said.

Prison warden R.C. Johnson says the program is excellent and what the inmates have accomplished is almost overwhelming.

Allen Burnett earned a college degree before being released from prison. He said he's working for Human Rights Watch. He's also on the Cal State L.A. campus and is working on getting his master's degree.

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