Sarah Zarba

While a freshman in high school in a small suburban town in Long Island, Sarah became hooked on drugs. She was a rebellious kid and wanted to do her own thing. What started as a daily use of marijuana quickly turned into prescription pill abuse. However, when she could no longer afford $50 per oxy pill, she turned to heroin. Desperate to support her habit, she and her boyfriend began knocking off convenience stores and gas stations at night. Eventually, a heist went wrong, and she was arrested. The young woman was put in the Suffolk County jail, forced into drug treatment at a Brooklyn facility, and then was sent to the Nassau County jail.

Following her release and time in rehab, Sarah graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, knowing that she wanted to help others with criminal histories. She is now a graduate student at the Columbia School of Social Work. Motivated by her own personal experience in the juvenile and adult correctional systems, Sarah has developed a strong and unwavering passion for criminal justice reform. She is the co-founder of the #BeyondTheBox Initiative at Columbia, an effort to remove questions about prior convictions from all college applications. She is fighting to make education more accessible for people with criminal records, and get rid of the stigma attached to incarceration.

In her words: After I encountered the question, ‘have you ever been convicted of a crime?’ on Columbia’s application, I was discouraged from applying. After much hesitation, however, I submitted my application in April 2016, and I received an acceptance letter 30 days later. My acceptance to Columbia School of Social Work is evidence that our administration believes in second chances—and in that moment, I felt so empowered and excited to start school.