From Formerly Incarcerated to Ivy League Graduate

May 09, 2018

Leyla Martinez, a single mother from The Bronx, struggled to gain access to higher education opportunities because of her criminal record. Now, due in large part to Columbia's Justice-in-Education Initiative and a determined dean, she is graduating with a bachelor's degree in human rights.

"I have found such an amazing support system at the School of General Studies—not only among our incredible student body, but also with our administrators— that I’ve found the strength to openly share who I am and help inspire others," she said.

Martinez is also the founder and president of the Beyond the Box Initiative, a student organization for current and prospective students who have been directly or indirectly impacted by mass incarceration. She is also a criminal justice reform advocate and a founding member of the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls (National Council). As a member of the National Council, she has traveled to several different states to speak to Law School students about the effects of incarceration on women, children and communities.