Narrative: I Went From Prison to Professor

13 Identifying Different Writing Styles: Prison to Professor

This chapter explains how Dr. Stanley Andrisse, the author of “I Went from Prison to Professor,” uses two different writing styles in his essay, depending on his purpose.

Identifying Different Writing Styles


In the essay “I went from Prison to Professor,” the author, Dr. Stanley Andrisse shares his personal story with the reader and also argues for policies and programs that help formerly incarcerated people get a college education.

The essay is personal because it is written in the first person ( “I”)  and includes the author’s own story, including selling drugs and spending time in prison.

The essay is an argument because it includes a thesis statement and claims that are supported evidence.

This article will show you how personal and argumentative writing use different vocabularies and different sentence structures.

Dr. Andrisse’s Personal Story

Let’s study the structure of some sentences that tell part of Andrisse’s personal story.  In these sentences, Andrisse’s purpose is to tell you about his own personal struggles.

  1. Growing up in the Ferguson, North St. Louis area, I started selling drugs and getting involved with other crimes at a very young age.
  2. Although I was a successful student athlete and received a near full scholarship to play football for Lindenwood University, a Division II college football program, I found it difficult to get out of the drug business.
  3. While incarcerated, I applied to six biomedical graduate programs. I was rejected from all but one — Saint Louis University.

The subject of each sentence is “I,” which is in bold font, but none of the sentences begins with “I.”  Instead, sentences 1 and 3 begin with phrases  and sentence 2 begins with and a subordinate clause.  These introductory clauses and phrases include important personal information and also make Andrisse’s writing flow smoothly.

Dr. Andrisse’s Argument

Now, let’s look at some sentences from the argument sections of the essay.  In these sections, Andrisse’s purpose is different: he wants to persuade you to agree with him by supporting his statements with evidence.  To achieve his purpose, he uses a new set of vocabulary and writes his sentence in a more direct way.

  1. Education provides opportunities for people with criminal records to move beyond their experience with the penal system and reach their full potential.”
  2. The United States needs to have more of this transformative power of education. The country incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other nation in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population but nearly 25 percent of the incarcerated population around the globe.”
  3. “This question also disproportionately affects people of color, since people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.”

The subjects and verbs are in bold font. Note that because the author makes general statements, he uses verbs in the Present Simple tense.

How is the structure of these sentences that support Andrisse’s argument different from the structure of the sentences that describe his personal story?  Pay careful attention to the placement of the subjects and verbs and his use of “I.”


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