FIRST DEGREE (USA, 24 min 38 seg )
Directed by: Roger Weisberg
Written by: Roger Weisberg & John Fugelsang
The expression, “sent up the river,” was coined by convicts who were sent up the Hudson River to do their time at the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, NY. FIRST DEGREE finds hope in this seemingly hopeless place by investigating an unusual college behind bars that is successfully preventing Sing Sing inmates from being sent back up the river after their release. Nationwide, over half of released inmates return to prison within 5 years, but for the past 14 years, less than 1% of the inmates that received a college degree at Sing Sing returned to prison.
FIRST DEGREE takes viewers inside this notorious maximum security prison and introduces them to some unforgettable inmates. We first meet Sean Pica, who was 16 years old when he went to prison in 1986. Sean’s high school friend, Cheryl Pierson, told Sean that her father was sexually molesting her, so Sean helped plan and carry out his murder. After receiving a 24-year sentence, Sean thought his life was over until a prison education program called Hudson Link gave Sean an opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. After serving 16 years, Sean was released, but he couldn't’t stay away from Sing Sing. Unlike most of the paroled prisoners that Sean met at Sing Sing who re-offended and quickly returned to prison, Sean came back to Sing Sing to run their college program. He takes us through his early days in prison as a hopeless 120 pound, 16-year old inmate to his discovery that college could open up an entirely new world of opportunity and possibility.