From Prison Cells to PhD:  It is Never Too Late to Do Good, by Stanley Andrisse, MBA, PhD

Dr. Stanley Andrisse has Attitude.  It is off-putting.  His Attitude was developed during his childhood (arrested at 11 and sent to Juvenile Hall), during his school years (multiple arrests for drug dealings), during his college years (multiple arrests, part of a national drug network), during the time he spent of his 11-year sentence (after DEA investigations and countless near misses), and during his miraculous release and subsequent academic and social-justice achievements.

158 pages detailing his life of crime and partners in it, his family and girlfriend… I was uncomfortable reading it, as if I were turning the pages of a snuff film of drugs and deaths.  Then 200 pages explaining how he got to here (Ph.D. endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins Medical School) from there.

He had many opportunities:  middle -class family that worked and tried to help him.  Education.  Physical ability so he could even participate in school football while organizing dope rings in the schools.  Friends mostly in The Business but others including family who simply loved him.  A girlfriend who might be nominated for Sainthood should the Pope read this book.

Yet The Call to money, to the power to get his family out and up, was greater than society’s power to encourage this very, very smart guy to be patient and make legal money.  Instead, he was awash in money from high school on, making more a day than his parents did in a year.  He loved it.  He loved cutting deals.  He loved meeting up with suppliers.  He loved creating a Team that took his dope and sold it for him.  He seemed to even love getting stopped by police, being searched and insulted, assaulted by frustrated cops.  Getting away with it.

He didn’t get away with it, in the end.  He had too many arrests and trips to court.  Where he was fortunate, I suppose, is that he had the money to pay for good attorneys. In one of the courts, he did spend some time reflecting on the number of drug dealers who didn’t have the money to pay their way out. 

In his final court appearance, the prosecutor summed up society’s opinion:

“Your honor, Mr. Andrisse fits the classic definition of a narcissist and sociopath.  Yes, he is intelligent.  Yes, he is charming.  His college degrees, many accolades, and beautiful girlfriend are evidence of that.  But he is also a conniving budding drug trafficker who’s been caught with countless amounts of drugs and tens of thousands of dollars.  The fact that several [previous court] cases could not be discussed in this hearing is only proof that he is getting better at his trade as time passes… Mr. Andrisse needs to be sent to prison for life!”

An exhausted judge finally sentenced him to 10 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.  When he heard the sentence, Andrisse asked the judge if he could hug his mother and family one last time.  “The judge denied me that opportunity.  She denied me the civility of a human being and asked the bailiffs once more to handcuff my hands and feet and to take me away.”

I suppose it is reactions like this that caused me to back away from the narrator.  No one found guilty in a courtroom gets to have a hug-athon.  Drugs and weapons might pass around.  A family member might create a real distraction for the guards.  The drug dealer wanted it both ways, right then:  to have been an enemy of society all his life but right now, to be the loving son and brother.  Didn’t happen.

Andrisse’s description of his years in prison are similar to those I have read, often.  Interesting to me was that he refused to join any gang (after leading a drug gang most of his life).  “I had come to the point that I was truly willing to be killed rather than join a gang for protection and extortion purposes.”  An attempt on his life was thwarted by the leader of one gang, who thought he should join them instead of his attacker’s gang.  He remained aloft from all that.  His physical size and agility helped him connect with people in the recreation areas, but in general he retreated into books.

Most of my own prison and jail correspondents write me about mail call, about getting news from The Outside World.  Andrisse received more mail than anyone on any unit he was transferred to.  He had phones in the units.  He received calls from his family and girlfriend.  On one of those calls, he learned that one of his personal friends and member of his Team had either committed suicide or been killed.  This death, one of many in his life, particularly upset him:  he had known the man and his wife and child.  He had anointed him with his drug leads and secrets as he left.  If he had indeed committed suicide, it was so he wouldn’t have to squeal of Andrisse.  If it had been a homicide, it was the result of taking over Andrisse’s position.  It was an extra sad blow to someone incarcerated who wasn’t able to help keep his men safe.  But here’s the thing:  no where does he say he arranged for the widow to get money.  (Maybe he did.) 

Andrisse’s total shift from career criminal to dedicated student came about when his father fell ill and died soon after his son left for prison.  The physical and clinical diagnosis was diabetes.  Shaken and depressed, Andrisse wanted to learn about that cellular killer so that one day he might find therapies to keep people alive longer.  It was tough going.  Reading scientific journals, trying to interpret difficult medical terms—tough indeed.  He was helped by his former college mentor with both science and mental encouragement.  It took a lot of doing, a lot of applications, a lot of helpful friends to send out 7 applications—but he did receive admittance to Saint Louis University to a Ph.D. program.

 I could conclude by saying that “the rest is history,” but that wouldn’t be fair to all the disappointments, societal brick walls, personal setback…. He kept on keeping on.  He learned the gruesome statistics on recidivism and understood them, daily.  The memoir is adept at providing statistics in an undertone, so that they don’t drown out the human story.  For instance, hired by a former basketball coach to help his team, Andrisse gave this new job everything he had, and the team loved every minute.  He was a success until he wasn’t:  The school learned his record and fired him—even put a restraining order between him and the team he had coached.  Many years, he couldn’t get hired even as a dishwasher.

From the St. Louis Ph.D. to Johns Hopkins Medical School was possible only through fellowships.  And he did it—he is now an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes research.  But who is he, really?  He now speaks throughout the country, a leading voice in the Ban The Box in higher education national movement.  His story gives him plenty of force in the national speaking circuit because he was dismissed as “not our type,” “ not worth our money.” Universities, as well as employers and landlords, ask applicants to check the application box that asks “Ever been convicted of a felony?”  Despite his education and abilities, he was turned down by society and made to feel like a parasite. 

He wants to change that for students who hope to move forward with their lives and contribute to society.  He created Prison-to-Professionals (P2P) and has more and more backing for grants to help the formerly incarcerated make it to the next branch of success.  It isn’t easy, but nothing in Dr. Andrisse’s life has been.  He now partners with higher education professionals, scholars, grant committees, and in 2019 received $7.2 for a 5-year grant for reentry programs.

Read this honest and informative book.  He offers plenty of suggestions to change the incarceral world—perhaps you can be a part of the change.

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