DENVER — There are some prisoners who are spending their time behind bars in a different way. They are planning and preparing for their release by turning to a local university for help.
That university is Regis. The program is called 'Inside/Out'.
Students are working towards 18 college credits than can be transferred anywhere.
On the day 9NEWS was allowed to sit in on a class, the course was on psychology.
The class was much more than tests and coursework, it was a place for the students to understand and change their own behavior.
Jason Bondurant is one of those students.
"I graduated high school in 1997," he said, "I was not a good student, barely graduated. Thinking about college was never on my mind back then."
But then everything changed.
"I've been incarcerated for a little over 17 years," said Bondurant, "I'm on a path of rehabilitation to hold myself accountable for what I've done."
His inmate number is 138844. He will never use his education in the outside world because he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murder. He takes classes at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City over Zoom, while the professor teaches from more than 40 miles away at Regis University in Denver.
There are students from three institutions; La Vista, Territorial and Buena Vista Correctional Complex.
"For me, my time in here is about being in service to other people. I really want to help reduce the harm the same kind of harm I caused," said Bondurant, "It's important to allow people inside these opportunities to change themselves. We can't change what we did. We can change who we are."
He sees education as a way to do this, which he hopes will ultimately translate to keeping communities safe.
"I hope to be a source of inspiration and resource for people to use trying to do the same thing for themselves who will be getting out of prison," he said.
The program is designed to reduce recidivism, which is tied to achieving higher education and to inspire other inmates to spend their time differently behind bars and change their path if released, according to the university.
People like Rebecca Romero, who said this program fits where she is in life. She's in a halfway home, getting ready to transition back to her family. She started her coursework behind bars while serving time at Denver Women's Correctional Facility for drinking and driving, as well as vehicular assault.
"Luckily I didn't kill anybody but I did affect a lot of lives negatively," said Romero.
She is working towards a bachelors and hopes one day, a masters. Her goal is to start a non-profit to work with kids of incarcerated adults, as well as other women who have shared experiences.
"I know how hard it was for my kids to understand my mistakes aren't their mistakes," she said, "And how society judged them for what I did."
Professor Roberta Mancuso sees a difference inside the prisons and students.
"They are looking at their world totally differently week to week," said Professor Mancuso.
"There is a much larger community of people here who want to change than I think is held in the common perception," said Bondurant.
The first cohort will graduate in December so there isn't a lot of data on how well the program works yet. But a spokesperson with Regis said that three people have not reoffended since starting their program while behind bars. From the time they were released, they are still continuing to work on their education.
The program currently costs around $200,000 a year, which Regis is covering right now. The university is also working on getting grants to cover costs.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Next with Kyle Clark