By: Christopher Zoukis
At the time, when he agreed to murder his friend’s allegedly abusive father, Sean Pica thought he was doing the right thing. Although his conscious lashed at him for what he felt he needed to do, he accepted cash from a friend to complete the hit, and he carried it out. The teen was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison as a result.
Before he went to jail for murder, Pica’s high school guidance counselor had told him he would do well in college. Despite being frightened by his circumstances behind bars and feeling like his life was over, once he learned of the prison’s education program, he decided to enroll.
That program was the Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. Pica served 16 years of his 24-year sentence and used that time to complete high school and earn a master’s degree in social work. Today, he’s the executive director of Hudson Link.
The Hudson Link for Higher Education launched in 1998 to provide life skills, college education, and support for incarcerated and released offenders. The aim is to create a positive impact on the offenders and their families while reducing recidivism and poverty in communities.
The program has been very successful. As the Hudson Link website points out, in New York State, it costs about $60,000 to incarcerate an individual for a year. It takes just $5,000 to educate that same person. Sadly, 43 percent of New York State parolees return to prison within three years. However, Hudson Link students’ recidivism rate is just 2 percent – clear evidence that education can make a huge difference for men and women behind bars.
However, Hudson Link is not Pica’s only reason for seeing the value of prison education. One of the officers asked him to help inmates learn to read and write. Despite not having finished his own high school education before he was incarcerated as a teen, he agreed to be a tutor.
Between working directly with educating fellow inmates and studying for his degree with Hudson Link, Pica’s life changed dramatically. With Pica helming the program, Hudson Link grew from 61 students, one facility, and one college partner to six facilities, 588 students, and a $1.5 million budget. All the funds are raised privately – government funding is not provided.
From a long sentence for murder to leading a prison education initiative that helps hundreds of incarcerated men, women, and their families each year, Pica is proud of what he has been able to accomplish and grateful for the lives he helps to change. However, his success and the success of Hudson Link does not detract from the mistake he made as a teenager. It haunts him daily.
He cautions young people to take the proper route – stay in school and think about the favors your friends ask you to do. In an interview with Crime Watch Daily Pica admits, “I regret every day that I shot and killed her father, not because it didn’t help her, but because I see his face every single day.”
After a serious crime, not everyone gets a second chance, but Pica is working hard to ensure that through prison education, as many offenders as possible in New York State get an opportunity to put their past behind them and move forward.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.