Navy veteran/student tackles problem of recidivism

As a veteran, the Warrior Scholar Project helped Gabe Godines ’23 make the transition from the Navy to Cornell University’s College of Arts & Sciences. Now he’d like to use that same model to help formerly incarcerated individuals pursue college degrees.

Godines is setting up a nonprofit that would provide weeklong classes at universities across New York state, as well as mentoring, academic and admissions support and networking resources, for people looking for a fresh start.

“I read ‘The New Jim Crow’ and it was eye-opening to me,” Godines said about Michelle Alexander’s book, which is a damning look at racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. “I knew I could create something similar to Warrior Scholar for someone who has been in prison. If I can have a positive impact on even one or two lives, that would be great.”

Godines, who is from Sacramento, spent three years in the Navy, but then realized he wanted to attend college. Through Warrior Scholar, he spent a week at Syracuse University, taking classes, living in the dorms and being immersed in the college experience. “The program teaches you how to be a college student and gives you the confidence to know that you can do this,” he said. “A lot of people think that college just isn’t for them, but this program gives you the tools to succeed.” The program also has a vast alumni network that provides support after students finish the program.

Godines went to community college for a year, then transferred to Cornell last year during the pandemic. “If I’m going to go out in the world and try college, I thought I should shoot for the stars,” he said.

Godines is in the research stages for his organization, looking into similar programs in other states, including Project Rebound in California, and connecting with existing programs such as Cornell’s Prison Education Program, which provides courses leading to college degrees for people incarcerated in upstate New York State prisons.

“My hope is to reduce the number of formerly incarcerated individuals who return to prison by helping them get accepted to and graduate from four-year colleges and universities,” he said.

Godines said he’s found a supportive community of veterans here at Cornell and is enjoying being a part of the ROTC here.

For more information about Godines’ plans or to help his organization, email him at gmg232@cornell.edu.

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