Chillon Project

The Chillon Project takes its name from the poem by Lord Byron entitled “The Prisoner of Chillon.” Life University’s founder and first president, Dr. Sid Williams, used to recite passages of this poem to convey caution regarding the environments that influence our lives. He noted Byron’s key message: “So much a long communion tends to make us what we are.” The question before us at Life University became, “Could there be a way for us to help change the calculus of the American prison environment by altering the ‘communion’ of those at the center of it all?”

One of the most pressing problems in American society involves the remarkable numbers of men and women who are incarcerated for various offenses. As a nation we imprison more of our own than any other nation in the world.

In 2012 CBS News reported the per capita costs of incarceration, depending upon the state involved, as between $31,000 and $60,000 per year. The annual estimate of the cost of prisons in the United States as of 2012 was in excess of $63 billion dollars.

Yet the burden of the current incarceration crisis cannot be measured in terms of financial cost alone. From a humanitarian standpoint, the cost to our society in terms of lost productivity, disruption of families, long-term post-incarceration expenses, the fracturing of our society, and the unfulfilment of human potential dwarfs the financial losses involved.

The Chillon Project is an undertaking of Life University’s Center for Compassion, Integrity and Secular Ethics (CCISE) together with the Georgia State Department of Corrections (GDC) to introduce full Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs in Georgia’s correctional facilities. This will be the first full degree program to be offered by a college or university based in the state of Georgia, and one of the few such programs in the entire Southeast. Another highly innovative feature of the project is that it will include scholarships for correctional officers employed by GDC to also have access to higher education.

Education is the single most important factor to be associated with recidivism. Most states have recidivism rates of around 30-40% within three years of re-entry. By contrast, an Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree program at Marymount University in New York has seen only one Bachelor’s student recidivate out of 63 since the start of the program.

Yet recidivism and financial costs are not the prime motivation for CCISE’s creation of the Chillon Project: we believe that all human beings have an innate capacity to benefit others, and therefore deserve the respect and educational opportunities that can help them achieve their highest potential.

We are grateful to the Georgia Department of Corrections and the numerous experts who have consulted with us as we prepare to launch this project with our pilot group of students in January 2016.

If you would like to sponsor a student or donate to support the program, please visit or contact us at Compassion@life.edu. We thank you.

Download our Chillon Project brochure.

Read the letter from the Dalai Lama concerning the Chillon Project.

With the approval from the Georgia Department of Corrections and the IRB (Institutional Review Board) at Life University, the Chillon Project has a unique opportunity to conduct research within the prison setting. Along with the IRB approved research study, we have been working on an extensive literature review focused around higher education in prisons. This is a working document constantly being updated and revised. We hope with this open-sourced literature review, the research around higher education in prison will start to become more robust. If you are aware of further research on this subject matter that is not included, please send the information via email to: avital.abraham@life.edu.

Annotated Bibliography

A Review of the Literature on Higher Education and Contemplative Interventions in Prisons

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Student Testimonials

“This is an update on the effects of the program in relation to my mental status thus far. Others in my class may’ve experienced this already, or not. I may be early into this development, or late. Nonetheless, I’ve recently started experiencing something so profound that the act of putting it into words seems to reduce the greatness of it all. I fear it will leave it sounding simplistic and you wondering why I even bothered to write this letter.

The parameters of my mind have expanded so much so that I now see my prior view of the world was muted, the sounds drowned out by useless static and seen at best through cataracts glossed over by idle time and a life lost. Everything is coming together now, as each class stacks wonderfully, complimenting the one before it. I never would’ve known the things that now occur to me so innocuously, were it not for this program. Now I see color; I see mechanisms and disciplines, science and beauty where before there was only shades of grey. Critical analysis and ‘aha’ moments have become the norm in a mind where they were before unheard of. Not only have you facilitated discovery for me, but you’ve given me the means to become the discoverer. It is awesome in every sense of the word. I am so utterly thankful for this education and no thanks will ever be adequate for a gift such as this. May my life serve it well.”

Student from the class of 2019


“Life University has changed my life. When I first entered this school, I was searching for a way to make a difference in the world around me because my daughter had been shot and I knew that I needed to do something. I could not just sit and do nothing. Life University offered me the opportunity to be the change that I needed to see in the world. I also was able to teach my daughter some of the practices that was drawn upon in the Compassion Integrity Training class. My daughter suffered from PTSD and in me sharing my knowledge with her she now holds a group with other teenagers like herself who experienced trauma. So, not only is Life University helping me, it is helping my daughter as well. I would not trade this experience for nothing in the world.”

Student from the class of 2020


“I am a first year student in the Life University program here at Arrendale. I want to express my sheer appreciation for the trickledown effect this program has had on my family. For over five years I have been encouraging my 25-year-old daughter to go to college. I have impressed on her that education is something that no one can ever take away from you and the benefits will last a lifetime. I have been sharing my college experience with her. She has subsequently enrolled in college on her own. I am so grateful for this life changing program. It is true that when one person in a family goes to college it changes the course for the whole family. I feel that my grandchildren and their children throughout the generations will reap the benefits of this college education.”

Student from the Class of 2020


“As a black transgender man and convicted violent felon, the opportunity to have access to higher education based on Positive Human Development and Social Change has been a profound experience.  I had given up hope that I would be granted equal life chances because I felt as if my life did not matter.  Through the course curriculum I have come to realize how the systems of society are constructed while developing a set of skills that will equip me with creatively applying solutions to social issues.  I aspire to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community and incarcerated women in order to give a voice and a face for those who have been isolated, marginalized, and ousted by society.  The AA degree that I am receiving from Life University has provided me with the courage, resources, and education that I need to fight for social justice.”

Student from the class of 2020


“The phenomenal powerful impact to be involved with Life University has been an experience that I would love to continue throughout my life, and the many lives that I may come in contact with. The Chillon Project has given my life new meaning by allowing myself and others to achieve higher education, and to explore many different avenues. I am able to be a refined role model for my children because they can deflate the circumstances that landed their mother in prison, and amplify the fact that I am using this time wisely to develop for the better good. We are able to come together to create meaningful ideas to be pushed into the world. You have a sense of making a difference in the community and the world we live in today. I am not only a role model to my children, but to the other women that spend time here as well. I always encourage them to join, and be a part of something that is so great.”

Student from the class of 2020


“Recently I learned the literal definition of education. It is derived from the Latin word educere, which means to lead out of. This new definition led me to think deeply about the role and importance of education. Furthermore, it helped me to fully appreciate the life changing gift that I received by being allowed to obtain my Associates of Arts degree in Positive Human Development and Social Change. In my opinion, the role of education is to awaken the student and teacher to a higher level of consciousness. Education should challenge present structures that oppress, exclude and harm people. It should lead one out of the ignorance of the status quo and enable learners to not only understand society, but to critique it and change it. Education is a liberator for it makes us conscious of the systems (whether abstract or concrete) that enslave us, and it encourages us to be pioneers in the field of social change. Life University has successfully done that and taught me that the goal is not simply to change policies and laws, but to change hearts. That focus has to be self and other concentrated for it be effective and sustainable.

This education has liberated me. I am no longer a prisoner to my ignorance or the ideologies taught by culture and society. Though physically incarcerated, I am free. I am freer than I have ever been in my life. My life truly began when I was accepted into Life University. Life University has given me a newfound purpose. I aspire to give my life to things that matter, for I know how it feels when the structures of society do not support your life. I know that social change can be considered a difficult and lofty idea, but it is the most important work of one’s life and to have a degree focused on such is the most valuable gem in this world.”

Thank you.”

Student from the class of 2019