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  • Vive Griffith

Patrick Rodriguez: Dreaming of a World Based in Grace and Forgiveness

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Through the Beyond the Box Georgia campaign, Patrick Rodriguez aims to open the doors to education by removing the criminal convictions question from college applications across the state of Georgia. It’s one of many ways he is advocating for reform in the prison education space, and one he says reflects “working to solve the problem I am closest to.”

Patrick saw very few options for continuing his education when got out of prison in December 2019. He wanted to get back to Kennesaw State but needed to take a first step. The Clemente Course at Common Good Atlanta, which is specifically geared toward those transitioning out of the justice system, was the step he was looking for.

“It was the only thing available for somebody like me, and that was why I joined,” he says. “But then I walked into a room where everyone understands what I just went through. Clemente provided a space for me to become a student again.”

It also provided a community of support that extended beyond the classroom, both in the fellow students and the faculty and staff. This allowed him to take concrete steps toward his future. “Clemente is about looking ahead,” he says in a video he created for the program (below). “It’s not about looking back. It’s about looking at who you are, what you’re capable of, and where you want to go. And it’s going to help you get there.”

Some of that help came from Common Good Atlanta’s Academic Director Bill Taft. Patrick likes to tell the story of the time he and Bill huddled in a makeshift office they jokingly called the “broom closet” to talk about his academic future. Patrick worried there were too many barriers in front of him to continue his education, including money owed and dropped classes. But Bill helped him sort through options.

“We had an honest conversation in there,” he says. “The broom closet was really the place we were able to get grounded. I was able to think more clearly in that cluttered broom closet, because that’s what it takes sometimes.”

Since the broom closet—and graduating from Clemente—Patrick has returned to college at Kennesaw State University, where he’ll complete his bachelor’s degree this spring, and he’s preparing to apply to law schools for 2022. (Don’t text him in December, he says. He’ll be hunkered down preparing for the LSAT.)

In the meantime, he is working on prison education reform, especially in Georgia, which has one of the highest per capita rates of incarceration in the U.S. and the world. Patrick is now the Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement at Common Good Atlanta, which offers the Clemente Course in which he participated as well as programs for those who are still incarcerated. He also serves as Co-Executive Director of The Georgia Coalition of Higher Education in Prison.

And this year Patrick was one of eight people selected out of a pool of 432 awarded a fellowship with the Education Trust. There he is learning to research and write policy that can bring about real change for directly impacted individuals around educational access, including the changes he’s advocating for in the Beyond the Box Georgia campaign.

While he is fighting for changes in policy and logistics, for Patrick, this work represents something even larger:

“I see our world as it is now. Right now we are in a punitive state, which I don’t think is acceptable. But I dream of a world that is based in grace and forgiveness. That is the world we want to live in.”

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