Man Who Earned College Degree While Incarcerated Gets Accepted to Law School Months After Release

Benard McKinley was sentenced to prison at age 19 for a gang-related murder

<p>Monika Wnuk</p> Benard McKinley

Monika Wnuk

Benard McKinley

A man who was previously sentenced to 100 years in prison is now heading to law school to earn his degree as a free man.

Benard McKinley was arrested for a gang-related murder at age 16 and then sentenced years later at age 19 to serve his time at a maximum security prison, according to ABC News.

After seeing how his legal fees were affecting his family, McKinley, now 39, obtained his General Educational Development diploma (GED) and then opted to continue his education in an effort to learn the law so he could represent himself in court, the outlet said.

"I promised myself before I got out of that bus that no matter what the outcome was that, you know, I was just going to try to do better for myself," McKinley told ABC News. "I knew that I wanted to better myself, and I did that."

<p>Monika Wnuk</p> Benard McKinley and his classmates

Monika Wnuk

Benard McKinley and his classmates

Related: Texas Girl Born in Jail Heading to Harvard After Graduating at the Top of Her Class

McKinley eventually became a part of Northwestern's Prison Education Program (PEP), which program director Jennifer Lackey told ABC News is the only program in the United States that will grant bachelor's degrees to incarcerated individuals from one of the top 10 universities in the nation.

During his time in prison, McKinley took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and later applied to law school.

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His sentence was eventually reduced from 100 years to 25 years, and he was released in December 2023, per ABC News.

McKinley is now set to join the Northwestern Law School class of 2027 when he starts learning at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago later this fall, the outlet said, adding that he is the first graduate of PEP to be accepted into any law school. (Northwestern, per The Guardian, has a 4% acceptance rate.)

<p>Getty Images</p> Graduation cap and diploma (stock image)

Getty Images

Graduation cap and diploma (stock image)

Related: 24-Year-Old Student Who Collected Garbage to Pay for College Is Admitted to Harvard Law School

“Just months ago, I was still behind prison bars, and not knowing exactly how the future of going to law school would turn out. So to be home and know I’m going to law school … is an amazing feeling,” McKinley told The Guardian.

He added, "It feels amazing. I’m definitely a positive role model for the future generation and my family. So you know, I have a job to do."

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