The expression, “sent up the river,” was coined by convicts who were sent up the Hudson River to do their time at the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, NY. First Degree finds hope in this seemingly hopeless place by investigating an unusual college behind bars that prevents Sing Sing inmates from being sent back up the river after their release. First Degree takes viewers inside this notorious maximum security prison and introduces them to a cast of unforgettable inmates. One charismatic prisoner is Jermaine Archer, whose reputation changed from being a feared gang leader to being a role model for students attending college at Sing Sing. Another is Clarence Maclin, who got his college degree shortly before being paroled and now works as a supervisor at a nearby residential treatment program helping young people avoid the costly mistakes he made as a teenager. Perhaps the most remarkable character is Sean Pica, who served 16 years for murder, but unlike most paroled inmates who quickly reoffend and return to prison, Sean came back to run Sing Sing’s college program. Nationwide, over half of released inmates return to prison within 5 years, but for the past 14 years, less than 1% of the inmates that received a college degree at Sing Sing returned to prison.
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