For most of his early adult life, Roger Bruesewitz was in and out of the Wisconsin state prison system. The ex-offender served time for dealing heroin, robbery, illegal gambling, and assault. It was while he was in prison that Bruesewitz started to dream of a way out of that cycle. He joined a study release program and graduated with a degree in 1975, several years before his final term in jail.
“Somewhere there was a seed that he wanted to have a different life,” said Mary Rouse of Bruesewitz. Rouse was his friend for decades, after they met during his time as a student.
After Bruesewitz served his time, he genuinely made good. He worked as a copy editor for UW-Madison, where he’d attended classes. He bought a waterfront house, and his family grew to call him a ‘straight shooter.’ And according to Rouse, he wanted to give that opportunity to other people caught in the cycle of crime and prison.
Bruesewitz left everything to Rouse, for a purpose. Since his passing in 2019, she has doled out the estate in donations to organizations that support any other ex-offender or veteran seeking to move forward, as well as journalists. That amount was not staggering, but it was substantial.
“I have given away all of his money,” Rouse said. “In my mind, he left his estate to me not for me personally to buy a better car or anything, but … to see that it would do some good. I feel that I’ve been able to honor his memory and what he was all about.”
Of the approximately $160,000 Rouse was left to disburse, $25,000 has been put into a scholarship for ex-offenders. Over a quarter of all ex-offenders have no diploma or degree at all, and less than half have anything more than a high school diploma or GED. Only 4 percent have any college degree, and their unemployment rate is 5 times that of the general public. The goal of the scholarship is to offer them the same chance Roger Bruesewitz had, to move past their criminal record, so often a barrier to many.