Books Behind Bars
Pritchett was released from prison two weeks before his 20th birthday and spent the next several years working at an Ace hardware store, going to church and attending John Tyler Community College, where he became an excellent student.
When he transferred to UVA last year at the age of 25, he knew there was one course he was definitely going to take: Russian literary scholar Andrew Kaufman’s celebrated “Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature and Leadership.” The course introduces the works of Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy to a blended roster of UVA students and residents at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Chesterfield County, where Pritchett grew up.
As he was preparing to apply to UVA, Pritchett’s mind went back to those letters he had exchanged with Santana, who went by his last name, as many inmates do. At that time, Pritchett was incarcerated at Riverside Regional Jail, an adult institution. He’d recently decided to join a therapeutic community program to straighten out his life before his release. The people leading the discussions were ex-cons who’d gone on to do good things with their lives.
“It wasn’t some guy in khakis and a white shirt telling me what to do,” Pritchett said. “Now, all of a sudden, it was people who looked like me, who sounded like me, who had lived like me, but they had found something that I hadn’t found and they shared that with me.”
It was during this time that Pritchett was exchanging those letters with Santana, his former cellmate at Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center. “He started telling me about this program he had just started with these kids from this UVA class,” Pritchett said.