By Liz Collin

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – New program gives Minnesota inmates a second chance, if they’re willing to work.

WCCO shares the story of a woman who hopes to leave a dark past to earn her law degree.

It’s with the same stack of books and following the same rigorous schedule that anyone else studying for the law school admission test would stick. Only, Maureen Onyelobi works for the LSAT serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, in prison.

“It’s my job, he keeps calling me. Decade after decade he calls me. I’m going to do it because I have to do it, ”Onyelobi said.

After graduating from a college near Chicago with a bachelor’s degree and taking a break before hoping to go to law school, Onyelobi says she got involved with the bad man from Minnesota, who was addicted to drugs.

“I know someone from the outside might say, ‘Why didn’t you just leave him? Why didn’t you just go? When you’re in an abusive relationship, you can’t just walk away, you can’t just walk away. Your feet can, but your mind can’t, ”said Onyelobi.

Eight months later, she was charged with aiding and abetting first degree murder. Anthony Fairbanks, 23, was shot and killed in Minneapolis.

“A lot of times I’ll play that night again, but there’s nothing I can do. All I can do is move on, ”said Onyelobi. “To say I don’t deserve a second chance is to say you don’t deserve a chance.” Everyone deserves a second chance. “

Seven years after her life sentence at Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility, that second chance came from the Prison-to-Law pipeline, a non-profit organization offering paralegal and law degrees remotely to incarcerated Minnesotans. Last spring, Onyelobi became the first woman to take the LSAT behind bars.

As Shakopee’s director of education, Dr Kristen O’Connell explains that of the 400 women serving time, most will be released in five to six years.

“We are very proud of Maureen. She sets the example. Everyone who walks through those doors becomes students for us, so all we want to do is educate them, find the programs that they’re passionate about, and when they’re passionate, they’re going to be successful there, ”O’Connell said. . . “All those released from here will be our neighbors and our friends. The more educated they are, the better they can help their communities.

In Onyelobi’s case, she is still actively working to get a high enough result that she can apply to Mitchell Hamline in St. Paul. Volunteers helped her study to get here.

“It’s really inspiring to meet people who really care about them. It makes me dream of the day when I can help, give someone a second chance, ”said Onyelobi.

She already does this with other inmates, offering advice to help them navigate a complicated system. And while she eventually hopes to be paroled, Onyelobi believes her true freedom comes in the form of knowledge – which is why she won’t be closing her books anytime soon.

“If you really want something, go for it. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, ”said Onyelobi.

Shakopee also offers courses in cosmetology, heavy equipment operation and computer science. By state law, all inmates must earn their GED if they do not have a high school diploma.

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