updated 4/25/2006 3:29:11 AM ET 2006-04-25T07:29:11

Thirty-eight years after dropping out of college, a Michigan woman plans to obtain her degree with help from an unlikely source — inmates on the nation's death rows.

Marie Minnich stopped attending the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle when she was 19 to take care of her father after the murder of her mother.

But she never gave up her dream of finishing college.

Minnich, a mother of three grown children and the owner of an interior design business in Ann Arbor, will get financial assistance through an inmates scholarship program.

The scholarship, which Minnich found while searching the Web, is offered to help family members of murder victims get through college.

The funds are generated from the proceeds of a bimonthly publication of prisoners' essays, letters and poetry called Compassion.

Minnich submitted an essay for the scholarship and later received a letter stating that she had been awarded a $500 scholarship.

"I was really moved," said Minnich. "I was moved at the connection between these inmates and my family. It was validation that human beings can be redeemed."

She plans to graduate this fall with a bachelor's degree in interior design from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

The scholarships represent a form of "restorative justice," Dennis Skillicorn, the editor of Compassion, told The Ann Arbor News in a phone interview from the Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri, where he is on death row.

"We try to restore some of the things we've torn down through our criminal behavior and thinking," said Skillicorn, 46. "We are trying to help her go forward. My only regret is that we couldn't give more than $500."

Compassion began publishing in 1991 and has awarded $23,000 in scholarships. It is sent free to all 3,400 inmates on death row around the country. Michigan has no death penalty.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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