By James R. Smith

I have been incarcerated for twelve years now and education has and always been my strongest ambition. As a former innate paralegal, I decided to expand my mind by gaining a college education, but the problem was: How was I going to pay for it? That’s the question most individuals who are incarcerated ask themselves, especially if they don’t have family members or friends to help them. But be not despaired.

I was fortunate. A good friend of mine was willing to pay for my initial education. As a result of his kindness, I was able to obtain an Associate’s of Science Degree in Paralegal Studies. But what now! I have a strong desire, like most individuals, to continue my education. However, I am financially unable to do so. I thought about financial aid, but with the congressional elimination of federal Fell Grants in 1994, financial aid was not possible, or so I thought. I learned that “individuals who are currently incarcerated have limited eligibility for federal student aid. Individuals incarcerated in federal or state institutions are eligible only for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSB9G) and Federal Work Study.” The FSBOG provides awards for students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Since these are grants the student does not have to work for the money nor does the money have to be repaid.  Image courtesy

The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the starting point for accessing all federal student aid. This is the government form you use to apply for a number of sources of federal student aid, including the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Work-Study. Most states and schools also use information from the FAFSA to award additional types of financial aid, such as, state-need aid and scholarships.

If a person has access to the Internet or has a friend or family member that is willing to help, I have included Web Sites for the purpose of researching Scholarships in order to help those seeking additional funding in order to take college courses or to further their college education.

Seeking Grants and Scholarships takes patience and time so do not despair if one or more places deny your request or application. Keep at it and remember, ‘Hard Work Pays Off.’ Additionally, many grants and scholarships have filing deadlines so one must be diligent in researching and meeting any and all deadlines requested by the school, organization or foundation.

This writer, based on personal experience, suggests the following to anyone interested in achieving a college education on their own:

First, contact the address listed in Footnote 2 for the mentioned Guide, and FAFSA to gain a better understanding about federal student aid.

Second, contact the school(s) that you may be interested in. Ask the Admissions Office for their school catalog and inquire if their school offers college correspondence courses, as most courses require Internet access. Also ask the school(s) about any financial aid or scholarships they may offer. Finally, ask the School about their ‘School Code for the purpose of filing a FAFSA. Briefly explain that you will be seeking the Federal Supplemental Opportunity Educational Grant.

Thirdly, once you find a school(s) that you want to enroll in, fill out the FAFSA form and submit it to the address on the application to start the process. In about 7 to 14 days, you will/should receive a Federal Student Aid Personal Identification Number and a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR is a document that lists all the information you provided on your FAFSA. Please check the SAR to be sure that the information is correct. This is important, as the SAR will be sent electronically to all the schools listed on the FAFSA. Schools will then use the information on the SAR to calculate the size of your financial aid package.

Remember, the FAFSA has filing deadlines. Not only do you have to meet this deadline, but also the school’s deadlines.

The school(s) that accepts you will send you an Award Letter outlining the types of Financial Awards you are entitled to. This Letter must be signed and returned to the respective school(s) to actually accept the award.

Lastly, after all the research and hard work, enjoy the fruits of your labor by earning your college education.

This writer is and has been researching and preparing a legislative bill that would try to reinstate the Federal Pell Grants to prisoners. Additional information about this will be reported as it becomes available.


Author:  Mr. Smith is a strong Advocate for the Rights and Equality of All Individuals, whether they are incarcerated or not. He is serving a sentence in excess of 100 years and has dedicated his time to ensuring that individuals are provided with an equal opportunity to obtain an education and in protecting the civil and human rights of all individuals.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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