Student turns his time in prison into a college education and a career

Ohio University student Brett Booker is turning his time in prison into a new career, and he’s not waiting until he gets out. He’s already published two books, with more on the way in 2022. 

An entrepreneur and author who writes under the pen name KryptoKid, Booker is enrolled in Ohio University’s print-based correspondence program while incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Mendota, Calif. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in specialized studies with a focus on entrepreneurial writing.

“You may have lost your freedom, but you gained an abundance of free time with little to no responsibility,” Booker said in an email interview, modeling how others in his situation can “be one of the few who refuses to assimilate to their environment and dedicates themselves to personal/career growth and development.”

Inspired by ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

When he was arrested in 2014 at the age of 20 and imprisoned as a result of charges of drug possession and intent to distribute, Booker quickly realized that he would be away from his family, and society, for a long time, but he was determined to make the best of his circumstances. 

“I refused to accept that I'd waste a whole decade of life and told myself early on that I'd make the most of this opportunity,” Booker said.

With inspiration from the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl, which his father sent to him in prison, Booker crafted a personal mission statement that has served as a guiding principle for his life and growth during this stage of his life. His mission statement reads, “Without assimilating to my environment, I strive to learn daily and make this the defining moment of my life.”

Booker learned about OHIO’s print-based correspondence program from a brochure and enrolled with the support of his family. He worked with his advisor, Tonga Cox, to select the specialized studies major offered by OHIO’s University College, which seemed like a good fit for his goals and aspirations of becoming a published writer. The specialized studies degree enables him to couple the craft of writing with business, and Booker said his course work helps him to better articulate his ideas.

“The better I can write, the greater I can speak, and ultimately, the more successful my future platform will be in making positive contributions to the world,” Booker said. 

Turning his time into 10 books

Booker’s latest book, “The Crypto Pursuit: Chasing a Stolen Dark Net Fortune” is available on Amazon. He plans to publish one novel and three novellas in 2022. He began writing for publication in 2018 while at FCI (Federal Correctional Institution) Sandstone in Minnesota and hopes to have 10 books published by the time he is released in three years. 

“It has been fun and rewarding to see my writings transform from scribbles on a page to a finished product that I can hold in my hand,” Booker said. 

Though self-publishing comes with its own set of challenges, Booker is committed to the process and has set ambitious goals for himself.

“Instead of going to agents and publishers, I decided to stay true to my degree and publish under my own publishing entity,” Booker said. “This allows me to not only retain full control of my intellectual property but retain more royalties in the long term.”

As a kid, Booker dreamed of becoming a movie director and acted out that dream by making props in his garage, recording and editing short films, and considering how he would change the plots to movies and TV shows he watched. After his incarceration, Booker has continued to dream and create, despite the challenges of his circumstances. 

“I knew that I could still progress towards my passions, but I would need to focus on what I could control,” Booker said. “I may not have access to any technology in here, but I can write. I can work on books, screenplays, hip-hop lyrics, outlines to video games, and so much more.” 

‘All you have is a table and your course materials’

Although completing a degree entirely through self-study with course materials, assignments and assessments all being sent via the postal service also provides challenges, Booker said learning through correspondence also has unique benefits. 

“It is this self-study and learning that makes the material stick with the student a lot more,” he said. “In a traditional classroom, students might just study to pass a test, but in here, you have to study with application in mind if you are to do well in the course. There is no Google for assistance on homework, all you have is a table and your course materials.”

At his last institution, FCI Sandstone, Booker was part of a group that created a reentry committee. He helped fellow prisoners write resumes and draft reentry plans and, along with the local district attorney and head parole officer, was part of a group that created the Prisoners as Teachers Helping Society (P.A.T.H.S.) program to speak to and mentor at-risk youth. He also taught classes there to address key factors of recidivism.

After his release from prison, Booker plans to return to Southern California and continue to build his KryptoKid brand. He looks forward to putting the business plans he has written while incarcerated into action. 

“I'll continue publishing books, and want to involve myself in music, movies, TV shows, gaming and fashion,” he said, noting that he also plans to use his platforms and his voice to advocate for a justice system with better educational opportunities.

Booker said he has enjoyed nearly every class he has taken at Ohio University. He has completed nearly all the print-based courses offered by Donna Burgraff, Ed.D., who coordinates the Bachelor of Technical and Applied Studies program. Booker describes Burgraff’s courses as “phenomenal” and said he also enjoyed a Theatrical Experience course. 

“I never paid that close attention to theater, and I loved everything I learned about it,” he said. “I just love to learn in general.” 

Cox has worked with Booker as his Ohio University advisor for more than three years and applauds his persistence. 

“Through trying circumstances, some beyond his control, Brett has been tenacious, involved, proactive and focused on the pursuit of his education,” Cox said. “Incarcerated students face many challenges.” 

For Booker, some of the challenges of completing courses and working on a college degree from the federal prison system include the lack of access to technology and the struggle to maintain routines. 

“Here at the camp, all I have is a paid email service, a desk and writing utensils,” he said, adding that maintaining a routine is nearly impossible due to lockdowns that occur because of fights or to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In the past two years, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a major issue in correctional facilities and an obstacle to students like Booker. As incarcerated individuals were sent to solitary confinement to reduce the spread of the virus, they had reduced access to the internet and print-based materials needed for their studies. Cox explained that the pandemic has also impacted print-based correctional education programs with delays in mail service and reduced availability of test proctors.  

Cox appreciates the opportunity to support the educational journeys of incarcerated students like Booker. 

“I am privileged to be a part of this program,” she said.

Ohio University has provided an opportunity for incarcerated students to study through print-based courses, to earn college credit, and work toward an Ohio University degree since 1974. Incarcerated students receive support from dedicated advisors, like Cox, who work with students to plan a program of study based on their career aspirations and personal goals. 

All correspondence takes place through the postal system, including advising, invoicing, shipping of course materials, submitting lessons and receiving grades. Students with access may communicate with OHIO staff via email and telephone in some situations.

Booker encourages other incarcerated individuals to make the most of their time in prison and consider pursuing a degree through a program like OHIO’s print-based correspondence program. 

December 8, 2021
Staff reports