Doris Bullock calls herself a poster child for second chances. Sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 1981, the high school dropout and self-proclaimed rebellious teen says she made a bad decision that resulted in her arrest and second-degree murder charge — a crime, she says, that she did not commit.
She served just over 10 years of her sentence, released in the summer of 1991. She made the most of her second chance, “determined to turn adversity into victory,” earning her GED and associate degree while serving and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees after release. She became Dr. Bullock in 2020, earning her Ph.D. in Education Leadership from High Point University.
She’s a former board member for Interfaith Prison Ministry Women/Arise Collective, which has partnered with Campbell University’s Second Chance Initiative to offer an associate degree to a cohort of women transitioning after their recent release from the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh. The collaboration is special to Bullock, a strong advocate for following the path of education as a means of reducing recidivism in the nation’s criminal justice system.
“You can put me on a billboard,” she said. “Those in programs like this can walk away with either a certification in something or a degree, and they can feel as though they finally have a leg up. And they do, because the likelihood of an organization hiring you goes up if you have some level of education. You position yourself to be able to be something more. It sets you up for success in a way you probably didn’t have the privilege of seeing before.
“With all of the traumatic experiences that they have gone through and with the resources that will be provided for them, I know they will be able to be successful with this degree.”
The degree program through Arise Collective is similar to the Second Chance program currently available to incarcerated men at Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton. Both are offered through Campbell’s Adult & Online Education program, and both were made possible by outside funding. The IMPW partnership was formed through the Anonymous Trust, a longtime advocate for the mission of women’s re-entry after incarceration. The Trust is supporting the Second Chance Initiative through a $552,000 grant.
“I believe these scholarships are life changing for the women and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them,” said Kimberly Breeden, senior program officer for the Anonymous Trust.
Sarah Swain, associate vice president of foundation relations and alumni engagement at Campbell, said she’s grateful to the Trust not only for its funding, but for inviting Campbell to the conversation on reducing recidivism for women in North Carolina.
“We all have a shared vision of supporting women and changing what re-entry looks like for them and tearing down the barriers they face upon release,” Swain said.
Women in the upcoming program will have served an average of two and a half years in prison, and each will have met certain educational requirements and approval from the University and Arise Collective.
A 2012 study by the National Institute of Justice found that women cited employment, life skills services and education as their three areas of greatest need following release from incarceration. Jennifer Jackson, CEO for Arise Collective, said women transitioning to life outside of a prison cell need allies often not found in the criminal justice system.
“If we’re not able to humanize and welcome people back in, they will forever be pushing a rock up the hill to reestablish their lives after a period of incarceration,” Jackson said. “In addition to working with women to train and educate them, we’re here to bolster their spirits so they understand they are deserving and worthy of that second chance, third chance or fourth chance. Because so often, the deck has been stacked against them from the time they were children.”
Second Chance Initiative students will have their choice of degree routes — an associate of arts in general studies that allows them to focus on specific areas like business or data management and an associate of science in behavioral science that includes more science and math courses.
Both are two-year programs and both transfer well into a four-year program should the student want to go after a four-year degree, according to Dr. Beth Rubin, dean of Campbell’s Adult & Online Education program.
“[The curriculum] gives students a grounding in psychology, social work and sociology and positions them very well to be peer support specialists or peer counselors, which is a large and growing field,” Rubin said. “Pretty much when they finish their degree, there’s a job available right there, either with the state or with one of several private organizations.”
Campbell’s partnership with Arise Collective means more than just an education for these women. The first cohort in January will also receive support — room and board, computer needs, internet access and books, in addition to personal and professional guidance.
“I won’t say we’re offering ‘everything,’” Rubin said, “because there are many barriers these women face. But it’s as complete as we can make it.”
Those barriers are the big reason why so many women return to jail or prison after their release, according to Jackson. Housing, employment, transportation, mental health and substance abuse support — a lack of access to any of these make it difficult for them to get back on their feet. Many end up returning to the behaviors that landed them in the criminal justice system to begin with.
“As many as 82.9 percent of women in North Carolina prisons either have mental health or substance abuse issues,” she said. “Just about everybody in prison has some kind of trauma in their background. With women, it’s often because of childhood sexual abuse, childhood trauma or domestic violence — often those situations catapult the choices that come out of it.”
Jackson believes in the often-shared thought that people need treatment more than prison. “Women need to heal from these wounds,” she said, “but instead, they find themselves in prison. But they still have the wounds. And there’s only so much of the healing that can happen while they are in prison.”