A Journey Inside

Samantha Sanjuanelo is a first-year Honors student pursuing a degree in Justice Studies – Criminal Justice. She currently holds an internship with the U.S. Department of Justice – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

My goal is to one day become a special agent in a federal bureau. After learning about criminals in class, getting a chance to witness everything at firsthand is life-changing. In August, I had the opportunity to visit Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ.

At first glance, the prison looked surreal. As soon as I stepped inside, I immediately had a sense of unease. Being in this environment gave the grueling realization of being an inmate – desperately deprived of freedom.

The best part of the trip was getting a chance to talk with the inmates. As we asked them questions about their lives and incarceration, some provided intimidating answers and quips. However, I still felt the fear that each inmate had.

Most of the inmates I talked with were there for more than 20 years. Some claimed they were innocent and incarcerated because of a faulty system, and others admitted to their guilt. But each and every inmate wanted to be released – they said they had learned their lessons, and they had changed.

The experience was eye-opening, because the prison was not everything people perceive it to be.


Samantha Sanjuanelo and Berkeley College students visit Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ.

I realized the obstacles that correction officers encounter on a daily basis. Walking around the prison also made me realize that many people forget that criminals are still human beings. Being inside revealed the sad reality that the corrections system is not perfect.

As a result of the trip, I was able to retain some of the fundamental techniques I learned from class and apply them to the situation firsthand. Prison is meant to punish, but there are also programs available to rehabilitate inmates. I came to the conclusion that people deserve second chances, because with the right guidance and programs, people can change for the better.