On December 27, at the ago of 54, Missouri state prisoner and prison education crusader Dr. Jon Marc Taylor died of a heart attack in his prison cell. For those who knew him, and those who knew of his amazing transformation and contributions to the field of prison education, he will be sorely missed.
The story of Jon Marc Taylor is anything but the typical story of a prisoner. Incarcerated since the age of 19 as a result of crimes committed in 1980, Dr. Taylor is perhaps the very ideal of reformation and rehabilitation. While incarcerated he earned his high school diploma, bachelor's of science and master's of arts through Ball State University, and finally his Doctorate in Public Administration from Kennedy Western University.
These are merely his educational feats, his advocacy feats, such as leading the charge to restore prisoner Pell grant eligibility, are a whole other story of remarkable success and realizing the seemingly impossible.
On the advocacy front, perhaps no single other person has done more for prison education than Dr. Taylor. Much of this work was in the mainstream and specialty media. Over a 20 year period he not only published articles in over 50 different magazines, peer-reviewed journals, and newspapers, to include the New York Times, the Journal of Correctional Education, and the Journal of Prisoners on Prisoners, but he even won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for his writings on the need for Pell grants for prisoners.
In the course of this amazing work he gained the support of luminaries such as former U.S. Senator Tomas Eagleton, the late U.S. Senator Paul Dimon, Ball State University professor Dr. Ross Vanness, Journal of Prisoners on Prisons editor Howard Davidson, and St. Louis University assistant professor Chuck Terry. When it came to his four unsuccessful parole petitions, one of which following his tragic February 23, 2014 stroke, letters of support flooded parole officials, coming from Manitoba to Massachusetts.
On a more personal note, I came to know Jon only a few short years ago while serving a prison sentence. While we never met in person, his work was instrumental in shaping my work and setting me on the path to a college degree from behind bars. Through his ground-breaking book, the Prisoners' Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada (3rd Edition)(Prison Legal News Publishing, 2009), and the two prior editions, he helped many thousands of American prisoners envision a future that did not include crime, but college correspondence courses which would help lead them to a better life. I am no exception. I owe more to Jon than perhaps even I know.
Sitting in a medium-security federal prison I found there to be few options for my betterment. There was no college, meaningful vocational training, or anything that could really help me to improve my life. All that was available were sports on the rec yard and the constant drone of televisions. I wasn't content with wasting a decade of my life away in a human warehouse with nothing to speak of. But I didn't know of any other way, until I learned of Jon and his work.
His book, and other assorted works, opened a hidden window into higher education for me, and for that I'm forever grateful. It is because of his hard work that I will be graduating later on this year with a bachelor's degree from Adams State University. It is due to his steadfast effort and commitment to the cause of prison education and rehabilitation that I have been able to turn my life around. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who can say this.
While others might not be willing to support a prisoner such as Dr. Jon Marc Taylor, this to include the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole who repeatedly denied him medical parole following his February 2014 stroke, I can tell you that the fruits of his reformed life are to be commended. I can tell you that the person he transformed into was remarkable. And I can tell you that his life mattered.
The story of Jon Marc Taylor is one of extremes. That much is certain. But while he might have started out on a very bad path, he corrected it and made a world of difference. It is to him that I owe my passion for prison education, not to mention my own college education. It is to him that the world owes so much more. The lives that his work has touched must be astounding. I can only imagine how significant his contribution truly was.