Dameon Stackhouse began his academiccareer on a very different path than many of his peers.
Originally from Bridgewater, New Jersey, Stackhouse graduated from high school in 1994 with a full ride to college and a position on the school’s football team. However, after dropping out of the football program over disagreements with the coach and developing a drug addiction, Dameon found himself incarcerated for the next 12 years. After being released in 2016, Stackhouse made a conscious effort to turn his life around, so he enrolled in the psychology program at Rutgers.
“When I was incarcerated, I immediately realized education was going to be the key that would allow me to transition back into society,” Stackhouse said.
Dameon says he has always been a listener and sought to give others the counseling and guidance that formerly incarcerated people rely on. Accepted into Rutgers-New Brunswick as an undergraduate, he found himself drawn toward work-studies aimed at advocating for young people and those with substance abuse issues. After speaking with a fellow student pursuing social work, Stackhouse enrolled in the Advanced Standing MSW Program where he found his true path.
“Rutgers School of Social Work is diverse in every aspect of the word. Most of my colleagues and professors at Rutgers know about my previous incarceration, and they have never treated me differently or made me feel as if I do not belong in the classroom. As social workers, we are taught to be non-judgmental, but to see this firsthand gives me inspiration and drive to be the best that I can be.”
Despite having his right to vote taken away as part of his conviction, Dameon also found himself working on the presidential campaign for Hilary Clinton. Many people were surprised when he revealed his non-voting status.
“People seemed to question why I was working on the campaign since I can’t vote,” Stackhouse said. “I think a lot of Americans forget that there are citizens who want to vote and want to participate in politics, but can’t because of their history with the criminal justice system.”
After the 2016 election, Dameon turned his focus toward advocating for legislation that would return the right to vote to prisoners in New Jersey. With the support of organizations like the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), with whom Dameon is affiliated, the bill successfully returned the right to vote to those who have already served their sentences. This was a step short of NJISJ’s goal of returning the right to vote to all incarcerated people, including those still serving their sentence, but it was a major victory nonetheless. Since then, Dameon and his colleagues have been watching the 2020 election closely, and have been working with the office of Senator Cory Booker to re-enfranchise imprisoned voters on a national level.
Looking forward, Dameon expects to complete the MSW program in May 2020, and then pursue his doctorate in social work. His ultimate goal is to open a community youth center in Trenton, giving underserved neighborhoods access to free meals, high-speed Internet, and resources to move forward in the education system.
“My heart said I needed to be a social worker and help mold the community into a place that I knew people would thrive,” Stackhouse said.
See recent coverage from CBS News of Stackhouse's story and his work to help kids avoid prison.