Ithaca, N.Y. — Cornell senior Keri Blakinger was arrested in 2010 with $50,000 in heroin. She was convicted and spent 21 months behind bars.

Ithaca Is Bluegrass Jan. 23-25

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She then got a job with The Ithaca Times, began taking Cornell classes again and graduated from the university this fall.

How was that transformation possible? Blakinger took up the subject in a column published today in The Washington Post, and came up with a definitive answer:

“What made my quick rebound possible?

I am white.

Second chances don’t come easily to people of color in the United States. But when you are white, society offers routes to rebuild your life. When found guilty of a drug crime, white people receive shorter sentences than black people. And even after prison, white men fare better in the job market than black men with identical criminal records.

It was prison that clued me in to just how much I benefit from systemic racism in our society. Until then, I hadn’t thought much about white privilege, which is exactly how privilege works – as a white person, I could ignore it. But sitting behind bars, I saw how privilege touches almost everything, especially the penal system.”

You can read Blakinger’s full column here.

In December, The Voice published a story, “Cornell senior arrested with $50K of heroin graduates after 21 months behind bars.” After its publication, several people recirculated the story on Twitter with the hashtag “#CrimingWhileWhite.”

Blakinger acknowledges in The Post column that there’s no way to know if Cornell would have let her back in if she was a minority:

“It’s impossible to know if a black or brown student in the same circumstances would have been allowed back in. But I think it’s likely.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.