Benard McKinley is heading to law school four months after completing a 25-year prison sentence. The 39-year-old will be joining the Northwestern Law School class of 2027 after receiving a GED diploma while incarcerated.

“I promised myself before I got out of that bus that no matter what the outcome was that, you know, I was just going to try to do better for myself,” he told ABC News. “I knew that I wanted to better myself, and I did that.”

McKinley was arrested for a gang-related murder when he was 16-years-old. He was sentenced to 100 years and was incarcerated in a maximum security prison.

He decided to pursue a degree after seeing the impact of legal fees on his family and started helping those around him who did not have access to legal aid.

“I was giving back and contributing to those who was in need of help — you know, in spite of them being incarcerated with me, they were still human beings,” McKinley said.

He decided to represent himself in court and successfully reduced his 100-year sentence to 25. After getting his GED, he took the LSATs and applied to law school.

McKinley is the first graduate of Northwestern’s Prison Education Program to get into law school. The program was launched in 2018 to help incarcerated people receive a bachelor’s degree from a top-ten university. In January 2022, Northwestern enrolled around 100 students from two prisons in Illinois through PEP.

“Bernard just worked tirelessly. He was relentlessly focused and he just sort of tuned out all of the distractions with that single goal in mind of coming home and going to law school,” PEP program director Jennifer Lackey told the news outlet. “And here he is.”