College student from Annapolis helps childhood friend get early prison release

A college student from Annapolis, Maryland, is tackling the “school-to-prison pipeline” one person at a time — starting with his childhood friend.

Brandon Harris, 22, a senior at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, and Sura Sohna, 23, who was released from the Patuxent Institution in Jessup on Feb. 8 — a dozen years early with Harris’ help — appeared together this week on “The Ellen Show.”

TV show host Ellen DeGeneres welcomed the pair to talk about their friendship.

When Harris was sent home from college during the pandemic, he began writing letters to Shona, who was serving a 15-year prison sentence for burglary.

Harris said when he found himself spending “an extended period of time” back home in Annapolis, he saw on the news how people incarcerated in Maryland where having a hard time during the pandemic, including “not having access to adequate cleaning supplies, masks, not being able to properly social distance.”

Aware of his personal connection to Shona, which dates back to fourth grade, Harris wrote a letter to him.

“That first letter turned into more letters and phone calls and Skype calls and it got to the point where I wanted to start a project called ‘Telling Stories of the Ignored and Forgotten‘ — and Sura’s story was the one I wanted to tell to the world,” Harris told DeGeneres.

“I wanted to understand his life story, in the most objective way possible,” Harris added.

Now a pre-med student, Harris plans to attend law school this fall, following his recent experience with Shona. He started a nonprofit called Brandon’s Coalition for Success to work with youth in Annapolis “who are having a hard time following the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Shona told DeGeneres he plans to finish his graduate equivalency degree, study photography and go to college.

“No matter what, I’m going to be working with Sura to make sure he’s able to stay on the right path and accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish for himself. This connection is lifelong,” Harris said, according to Davidson College.

WTOP’s Matt Small contributed to this report.

Lauren Hamilton

Lauren Hamilton is an Associate Producer at WTOP and a graduate of the University of Maryland. She enjoys covering the intersection of arts, culture and social justice in local communities. She began as an intern with WTOP in the summer of 2021.

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