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I am currently applying to graduate programs in physics across the US, though primarily in California. I am a New York State resident currently on parole for a violent crime committed in 2005. I have been on parole for over 3 years, and will be released in the Summer of 2016.

I am going to have to transfer my parole with only several months notice, which will be a hassle. My hope is that my academic accomplishments will result in my parole transfer being completed without resistance.

If anyone has any idea what I can expect from a graduate institution in terms of assistance in the process, please respond. I foresee the process being a rough transitions if the state to which I transfer is not welcoming.

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    It's not their main focus, but people in the Prison University Project probably have tangential experience with these sorts of things, in case any of them are in departments/schools you're applying to. My own experience with a spinoff of that program is that the type of people involved will bend over backwards to help you in this sort of situation. – user4512 Jan 3 '15 at 9:32
  • I've never heard of the Prison University Project, but I will certainly contact them. Perhaps they will be able to point me in the right direction. Thanks for the info. – Sean Bearden Jan 3 '15 at 13:12
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    I don't think you should be asking your graduate institution anything or expecting any help in regards to this. At the most, I would inform them that it may be an issue. At the least you should deal with it yourself. Later it may become an issue where certain people don't want to work with you b/c of this when you did not have to let it be publicly known. – NDEthos Jan 4 '15 at 2:40
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    I have not focused on hiding my past from the institutions. The gap in my personal history is too long to not account for it. I have decided honesty is the best approach to take. It's all said and done now, applications have been submitted. – Sean Bearden Jan 4 '15 at 8:08
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To answer my question based on my experience:

I did not find that any institution was particularly wary about my past. Of the many institution to which I was granted admission, only SUNY Stony Brook asked me to go through a review process. Most institutions found my past inspiring. I cannot say how the institutions that rejected my application felt about my history. However, my rejections came primarily from top 10 universities, so it is likely competitiveness of those programs led to my rejection.

I have accepted admission into a Ph.D. program at a University of California institution. In the process of transferring parole, the department of my studies has been very helpful. The chair of the department has provided a letter to parole, and the staff has assisted me in obtaining housing.

My experience was much less troublesome than I had feared.

Most helpful to me was:

  1. Creating connections at my undergraduate institution. I have been an active student regarding campus activities. I volunteered often to help the department. I wanted to create a track record of assimilating into the campus community.

  2. Being honest in my applications and statements of purpose. Many may believe that my history should not be highlighted, but I have found that having a unique story sets me apart from other students. Everyone seems to enjoy a good comeback story. (It has also helped me win scholarships.)

  3. Letters of recommendations from professors with whom I have worked. These letters did not mention my history. They show that I am more than a good student with an interesting story; I have the ability to function as a productive student researcher.

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    Glad to hear that everything worked out for you. To be a generally more useful answer to others in similiar situations, it would be helpful if you included some of the academic specific steps that you needed to take and any groups that were helpful in the process. For example, did you contact the Prison University Project. – StrongBad May 14 '15 at 9:16
  • I did not contact the Prison University Project, because they are focused on education within the prison system. I did not rely on any groups for assistance in the process. I will edit this to detail what has been most useful to me in my journey. – Sean Bearden May 14 '15 at 9:37
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I can't say I've had any practical experience with this, but my suspicion is that the university will probably not make extensive efforts to assist you in this matter, because it's not something they will have significant experience with, either.

I also suspect their willingness to provide assistance will in large part be dependent on the amount of help they have to provide. If you need letters confirming that you have been accepted to the program, and that they have supported your admission with knowledge of your prior record, that's probably reasonable. On the other hand, if you're expecting them to send a representative to a hearing, or something more intensive, that will likely be much more complicated.

However, your best advice in such a situation is contact a competent attorney who can provide more guidance.

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    I agree with this, especially about contacting a competent attorney. In this context, what I mean by "competent" is the attorney will know (at least) exactly what the parole officials will need (or want) to see in connection with your transfer request, so that you can ask your graduate institution for exactly the right documents to support your cause. (For example, do you need a letter from the department chair, or from the head of the department's admissions committee, or from a dean or from a provost? Are there "magic" words that should (or should not) be in the letter?) – Andreas Blass Jan 3 '15 at 2:33
  • Part of my issue with preparing is that I have no idea where I'll get accepted. I can't start a parole transfer until the location has been determined. I hadn't considered an attorney because the parole system in New York is often removed from the courts. Also, I am not sure if I have a "right" to transfer. I will look into finding an attorney and see what rights I do have in this matter. – Sean Bearden Jan 3 '15 at 7:23
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    One other resource to look into: most states publish their policies for parolees. You should look to see if you can find the document for NY, which may have quite a bit of help about procedures and deadlines. – aeismail Jan 3 '15 at 22:09

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