Daniel Geiter remembers what it was like as an inmate in the Vienna Correctional Center back in the summer of 1999.
“It was like 110 degrees that day, the concrete walls of my jail cell were sweating, and I just woke up that morning and said, 'oh my god if I ever get out of here I will not come back to prison,'” Geiter said.
He’s been back to prison since then, except to encourage inmates to turn to education to get their lives back on track.
It all started when he moved to Chicago from central Illinois in 2007, and as an ex offender he hit a mountain of roadblocks. He couldn't pass a background check to work at McDonalds, and was later fired from Pizzeria Uno on his second day because he couldn’t pass the background check.
Then a police altercation involving his son triggered big changes in his life.
“My ex-wife calls me at four in the morning, [and said] he and a couple of friends had stolen a car and they’re joy riding around Atlanta and they were stopped and held at gunpoint,” Geiter said.
"I challenged him academically, and he challenged me back," Geiter said. "That really made me commit to the education, because he was like, 'dad if its so important why haven’t you done it?'"
In 2009 Daniel earned an associate’s degree from Moraine Valley Community College, then a bachelor’s from St. Xavier in 2011, and after that a master’s from the University of Chicago. And he became Dr. Daniel Geiter when he recently graduated from Benedictine University. All honors which did not come easy for a former felon.
“There was a time I was evicted and Sister Sue found a donor who paid my rent for six months. They were like ‘the only thing you need to do is graduate,’” he remembers.
Geiter says that got him thinking: “What if we founded a college that created that type of opportunity and support to every student?”
That is exactly what he is about to do. This fall Daniel and his 11-member board will open the doors to Ward College, an institution designed for low-income minority students. It will focus on ex-offenders, the ones he says no one else will take, operating inside Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago.
Earlier this year Daniel donned that prison jumpsuit he vowed to leave behind and trekked nearly 200 miles to Springfield to raise money for the school. Huge strides were made but $200,000 dollars are still needed to get his program off the ground.
At the beginning of June a GoFundMe page was launched to meet the remaining goal, and help Daniel pay forward the support which helped turn his life around.