By Erica Hur
After he was released from prison in January 2014, Aris Mangasarian found it difficult to find the resources to apply to a four-year university from community college.
In response to his struggles years later, the junior founded The Underground Trojans at USC, a group meant to help formerly incarcerated individuals who are low-level offenders transition from the judicial system to higher education.
“Essentially what we’re doing is reducing prison recidivism and increasing the likelihood of a more productive, healthier lifestyle for returning citizens,” said Mangasarian, who is majoring in psychology. “We’re using higher education as a bridge between incarceration and successful reentry into the community.”
The organization is connecting students at different community colleges with the hope of helping them transfer to four-year institutions like USC.
In community college, Mangasarian explained how his academic counselor was unable to answer his career-oriented questions because of his record of multiple low-risk criminal offenses.
“They are not used to students asking those types of questions because we’re extremely non-traditional,” Mangasarian said. “Forget the color of your skin, your gender, your social economic status … none of those things matter. [Formerly incarcerated students] are just branded in a completely different way.”