From Prison to PhD: One man's second chance

Posted at 10:35 PM, May 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-12 23:23:47-04

Stanley Andrisse knows his science. He's a well-respected researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  He's got two sets of letters behind his name, MBA and PhD, and those credentials didn't come easily.

"I got involved in making decisions that weren't the greates," he said. 

Andrisse is proof you can't judge a book by its cover.

"I graduated and almost immediately after I graduated and went off to prison," he said. "It was devastating. I had this seemingly kind of good things going on, but then I'm a two-time convicted drug felon, and I'm sitting in prison."

Andrisse was sentenced to 10 years on drug trafficking charges and expected to serve 66 percent of that time.

While he was away his father's Type 2 diabetes got worse. His limbs had to be amputated. His father's loss spurred him to action.

"That was extremely difficult to sit in my little cell and be helpless to coping with my family," he said. "My dad has given me the motivation and inspiration to study diabetes."

He was fortunate to qualify for a drug rehab program in minimum security prison that would end his sentence within months of completion. When he finished he was prepared to further his education, but he wasn't prepared for what came next.

He was rejected from at least five universities. That's when it began to sink in. He was now a convicted felon who would be required to disclose that on college and job applications.

"The wording says if you've been convicted, check the box and explain the charges and the conviction,"Andrisse said. "For me and other people like me it literally brings this feeling in your gut that you read it and instantly get the feeling they don't want me. Why even continue the application because I know what comes next."

Andrisse was lucky, a major break followed. He was accepted at St. Louis University.

"I finished top of my class with the PhD program; the highest GPA," he said. "Everyone accepted and kind of knew me and both academically and otherwise but they didn't know me, because they didn't know I had a criminal conviction that I was a two-time drug convicted felon."

Now at Hopkins, the Post-Doctoral Scientist is open about his past.

When he's not in the lab, he's working with City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her first-time drug offender program.

"Sharing my story with these people that are earning their Bachelor's degrees while they are in prison it was amazing for me, and it was amazing for them to hear my story," Andrisse said. 

He's working to ban the box and stop the stigma.

"That is my hope that someone watching this will understand that everyone deserves a second chance," he said. "Everyone deserves the opportunity at obtaining an education. For a person like myself I was top of my class. For those other programs that didn't let me in, they missed. Society is missing out on talent."