In the hard-scrabble world of big-city teens, these two were the lucky ones.
Sebastian Yoon grew up in a middle-income home, with two siblings and a hard-working dad. Jule Hall was a bright kid who enjoyed homework; “I loved school,” he said.
Both had the potential to go far. Before 18, they were both in New York’s tough Rikers Island jail.
Now they’re featured in “College Behind Bars” (shown here), 9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 25-26), after a different sort of luck. They were among the few people who landed spots in the Bard College prison program.
“I had to live two lives,” Hall said, “one as a prisoner, one as a student.”
Neither man makes excuses for the past. Yoon was ready to apply to Cornell University; his diligent dad “was always at work. I was insecure and I wanted to be loved. So I went to the streets.” At 16, he was charged with first-degree manslaughter and spent 12 ½ years in prison.
And Hall? He was in Brooklyn’s tough Brownsville neighborhood. “If you were smart, you were picked on …. I started going astray when I stopped putting so much emphasis on education.”
He was 17, he said, when he got mad at someone who walked int the neighborhood with a gun. He got one from someone else and a gun battle followed. A bullet from the other guy killed a neighbor woman whom Hall respected; he was convicted as an accomplice and spent more than 20 years in prison.
That was just as Congress quit allowing Pell grants to prisoners. College programs in prisons virtually vanished … then the Bard program began, with private funding.
Now Hall has a college degree, a job with the Ford Foundation and a look of success. He credits the Bard program and the voices from the past.
“It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who humanized us,” Hall said. “It was Martin Luther King Jr. (It was) reading these words and engaging these words.”