Michael Broadway graduated from Northwestern University’s Prisoner Education Project in November 2023, becoming one of the first incarcerated people to earn a bachelor’s degree from a top-ten university. Credit: Jim Daley

On June 19, Michael Broadway, an incarcerated graduate of Northwestern University’s Prisoner Education Project (NPEP), died in Stateville Correctional Center. Broadway was one of sixteen men in Stateville who graduated from the Northwestern program in November 2023, becoming the first class of students to earn four-year bachelor’s degrees from a top-ten university while incarcerated. 

Broadway was fifty-one and suffered from asthma. On June 19, temperatures in Crest Hill, where Stateville is located, reached ninety-two degrees. According to an email sent to the Weekly by Anthony Ehlers, a fellow NPEP graduate whose cell was next door to Broadway’s, the prison was even hotter, and the heat may have factored into Broadway’s death. Ehlers’ and Broadway’s cells are on the top gallery, and the men incarcerated there had only an industrial fan that was padlocked and turned off. 

Broadway told neighbors he was having a hard time breathing, and they called for help, but it took more than twenty minutes to arrive. According to Ehlers, the medical technician initially refused to climb the stairs due to the heat. After several minutes she relented, but attempted to treat him with Narcan, an opioid overdose medication, despite being told by Ehlers and another NPEP graduate he had asthma and didn’t use drugs. Broadway fell unconscious, and the other graduate helped several guards carry him downstairs; they used a sheet because the nearest stretcher was broken. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, Broadway had stopped breathing.

Governor J.B. Pritzker has vowed to close and rebuild Stateville. Last year, a report commissioned by the state found the prison had buildings in worse condition than in any of the state’s correctional facilities, with deteriorating masonry, outdated fire suppression systems, undrinkable water, and more. 

At the November graduation ceremony, author and journalist Ta-Nehesi Coates delivered the commencement address. In his remarks, Coates said he could relate to the graduates and described growing up as someone at odds with the school-to-prison pipeline. He acknowledged Broadway personally, holding up a copy of the NPEP graduate’s book, One Foot In, a coming-of-age novel about two friends in Chicago, to cheers.

Like the other graduates, Broadway gave a brief speech during the ceremony. In a heartfelt closing shared on Twitter by WTTW’s Brandis Friedman, he apologized to his mother, who was in attendance, for past violence and police raids on their family home.

“I know that everything you ever wanted for me was to be the best version of myself,” Broadway said, his voice breaking with emotion. “So I ask you, mama: how did I do?”

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Jim Daley is the Weekly’s investigations editor.

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