Dad Who Was Formerly Incarcerated Graduates from Ivy League School with a Master’s Degree

Thomas Jones earned a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University

<p>Getty</p> A stock image of a group of graduates.


A stock image of a group of graduates.

A former inmate made his dreams a reality when he set his mind toward his education.

Thomas Jones graduated with a master’s degree from Cornell University in May after serving two terms in prison, according to the Cornell Chronicle and Essence. “The most impossible places and circumstances prepared me for some of the most powerful doors,” Jones said in a statement to Essence.

According to the magazine, 34 members of Jones’ family made the trip from across the country to support him on his big day, when he received a Master’s of Industrial and Labor Relations degree.

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<p>Getty</p> Cornell University in New York.


Cornell University in New York.

Related: Man Who Earned College Degree While Incarcerated Gets Accepted to Law School Months After Release

Jones was first convicted of unlawful possession of a handgun at age 20 and was sentenced to three years in prison, per the Chronicle. According to the outlet, he was released after a year for good behavior and though he tried to go back to school and find work, he was turned down because of his criminal record.

Eventually, Jones found a job at a warehouse, where he worked double shifts after his son was born prematurely in 2012 and spent his first six months in the hospital. “It was a very trying time in my life,” Jones told the Chronicle. “I was so overwhelmed.”

<p>Getty</p> A stock image of a graduate during a graduation ceremony.


A stock image of a graduate during a graduation ceremony.

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Per Essence, some time after that, Jones left a party with friends and asked a police officer for help when he got lost. The move, however, prompted the law enforcement agent to search his car.

Jones fought the move in court, arguing it was an illegal search motivated by prejudice, but it ultimately led to his second conviction for possession of an illegal weapon, the Chronicle reported. He was sentenced to 7 ½ years in jail.

Jones served over three years of his second sentence. During that time, he adopted a different mindset. “I just really wanted to do better by my child and as a person overall,” he told the Chronicle. “I told myself that I had five years to build myself back up, and I didn’t care if I didn’t sleep or eat. I had to make up for lost time.”

<p>Getty</p> A graduation taking place Cornell University in 2018.


A graduation taking place Cornell University in 2018.

Related: Texas Girl Born in Jail Heading to Harvard After Graduating at the Top of Her Class

Jones eventually enrolled in community college as he transitioned into a halfway house. Per Essence, he earned an associate’s degree with the help of the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons initiative.

He later applied to four-year schools and then attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., where he studied human resources management and services. Jones was officially released from prison two weeks before classes began, the publication reported, with Essence adding that he earned a bachelor’s degree from the university in 2022.

He was then accepted to Cornell for graduate school, when he earned his master's two years later.

Jones told the Chronicle that he hopes he can be an example for others in similar situations. “I’m an open book at this point, because I think it’s important to share my story,” he said. “I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal, but I want to create a pathway for people in the community I come from, a pathway to aspire beyond what they think is possible.”

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