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Where there’s a Will there’s a Way: Former Cocaine Dealer Wins Truman Scholarship
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When Walter Fortson was arrested in 2007 for dealing in crack cocaine, the police officer told him “your life is over.” In 2012, he is studying with honors in Rutgers University and the only New Jersey undergraduate to receive the prestigious $30,000 Truman Scholarship. The Truman Scholarship is a national award given to outstanding students pursuing careers in government or public affairs.

Fortson, now 27 was apprehended at the age of 22. He began university classes through a program while still living in a halfway house. He accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to five years with a parole possibility after 26 months.

On Friday, he told the media after receiving the news of winning the Truman Scholarship: “I knew that I had to bear the weight of being a felon and I thought that was something I would never be able to shed … The officer told me, ‘You know your life is over, right?’ I took him at his word.”


While at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility, Fortson was introduced to Donald Roden, a Rutgers History professor who started the program to help felons enroll as students in the University. Roden told the media that Fortson “impressed me immediately by his determination and his brilliance.”

Roden’s program has enrolled 35 students to the university convicted of various felonies.

Fortson helped create the Mountainview Student Organization at Rutgers and is now its president. The organization recruits volunteers from Princeton and Rutgers to tutor at state correctional facilities.

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He said that he accepts he broke the law and deserved punishment. However he holds the frequent strip searches, “is something I would not wish on my worst enemy.”

Fortson told the media that he felt lucky to have the chance to rehabilitate once out on parole, and he now wants to help other young people in prison find equal opportunities.

Currently, Fortson is studying exercise physiology with honors at Rutgers. The future may not be as dark for him as the police believed.


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