There is power in education. This is what Hanan Al-Zubaidy, director of education at Clark College at Larch Corrections Center and daughter of Iraqui Refugees, knows for sure. Historically, many have lost their lives fighting for education, and this fact is among the reasons Al-Zubaidy has made education a central point in her life. Her passion for creating educational pathways and making educational resources accessible has led her to help incarcerated students chart re-entry paths into their communities. 


Hanan Al-Zubaidy is greatly appreciated by the incarcerated students at Larch Corrections Center in Yacolt who work towards productive re-entry into their communities. “First, I acknowledge any trauma they might have associated with being in an academic setting. When I do this, the students feel heard.” Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Corrections

“I’m honored to do this work,” shares Al-Zubaidy. “For me, it’s about the other person’s experience—not so much what I am doing—we see our education invested in their success.” 


Uniquely Suited for This Role 


Born in Saudi Arabia at a refugee camp and resettling in Portland at age 3 with her parents and younger brother, Al-Zubaidy’s family story dives deep into what it means to persevere through displacement after years of warfare spurred under Saddam Hussein’s regime. She explains her grandfather’s actions teaching people to read and write in an underground library—aka his shoe shop—in Samawah, Iraq that led to his arrest and execution influenced her immense value of service and education.


Humbly Making a Big Difference 


Al-Zubaidy’s journey helping incarcerated people gain access to education began as an intern in 2018 by assisting students in preparing for GED exams. Then she was hired to serve as the facility’s education re-entry navigator. This new role allowed her to help individuals releasing from prison to find needed resources in their communities to avoid re-offending. In addition, as a re-entry navigator, Al-Zubaidy ensured incarcerated students completed college applications and applied for financial aid. “I talk to the person I’m serving first and see what their needs are,” says Al-Zubaidy. “I ask students what they felt they need for re-entry.”


This helped her determine that access to programs and more educational and community resources was a significant need. So, during the pandemic, when Clark College put coursework, registration, and other administrative functions online, Al-Zubaidy spent hours collecting and organizing school materials that incarcerated students, who have no internet, could access offline on pre-loaded files. The accessible information meant students could continue classes remotely. 


Hanan Al-Zubaidy’s grandmother fled Iraq to the desert of Saudi Arabia with her six children after her grandfather was arrested and executed for teaching people how to read and write. “I could have had a very different life,” she says. “There were so many things in that split decision to leave.” Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Corrections

“It took me six months,” “It gives them the skill of sifting through to find information that is useful and beneficial,” shares Al-Zubaidy.


In 2019, Larch launched an individual peer tutoring program. Incarcerated students can receive a certification from the College Reading & Learning Association (CRLA). CRLA is the international standard for the peer tutor program certification in higher education. The curriculum teaches incarcerated individuals to tutor their peers within a prison setting. Larch Corrections Center is the nation’s only prison running this program. 


Al-Zubaidy’s position as the education director seems natural and took place in September of 2020. Now the devoted education advocate and humanitarian evaluates programs, oversees budgets, and collaborates with community partners to improve the quality of Larch Corrections Center’s educational offerings. “It’s like real college, and you don’t have to finish your education at Larch,” says Al-Zubaidy. “The credits are transferable.” 


In the last three years, Larch added a High School Plus Diploma Program and a High School Credit Recovery Program that allows students to earn diplomas using high school credits and combining experience in DOC work programs.


Debunking Myths


There is a misconception that people do not change, says Al-Zubaidy. And some believe that incarcerated people have chosen this life with no going back. “It’s my job to show them there’s an alternate way,” says Al-Zubaidy. “There are resources, especially through education, to change your life.”  


Hanan Al-Zubaidy says in Islamic belief, God’s first command to the illiterate prophet, Muhammad, was to read! “That is the foundation I built my life on,” she says. Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Corrections

Student Charles Yancy Jr. intends to succeed. Ten months into his time, he is purposeful about his education plans at Larch. An Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Management in tow, Yancy Jr. says he is currently serving as a teacher’s assistant and peer tutor at Larch. He says he became inspired to participate in the educational programs at Larch because of his desire to be the best father, husband, and son upon his release in 2025.


“I needed to better myself for my family,” shares Yancy Jr. of his hope for the future using his education. “I want to take over my family business in the clean and sober or re-entry business and help people with their businesses in any way possible.”


Reward in Seeing Potential


Al-Zubaidy enjoys seeing students recognize their potential and begin to foster self-belief in their abilities and dreams. “When it comes to self-belief,” she says, “it comes, and it goes, it is not a constant thing, so make it a conversation with that voice in your head. Don’t just listen to it saying you aren’t successful.” 


The educational team at Larch strengthens self-belief by ensuring support is readily accessible to students in the programs. “The support team have helped many residents achieve their goals,” says Yancy Jr. “I love that Miss Hanan works hard for us and does all she can to bring the residents classes we can utilize. We are working to bring language studies here and working with Miss Hanan is a joy.”  

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