Murderers, drug dealers, and kidnappers at Cheshire Correctional Institution in Connecticut are getting a shot at a prestigious private education. Wesleyan University, a small, selective liberal arts college in Connecticut, is participating in a privately financed initiative to bring a Wesleyan education to a high-security state prison. The two-month-old, highly competitive program offered just 19 spots to a pool of 120 applicants, who were judged on academic potential and not their past criminal behavior. Members of the class, whose combined sentences total more than 600 years, study chemistry, biology, politics, writing, and sociology, and are graded, instructors say, on the same criteria as Wesleyan students. Prisoners cite self-esteem and intellectual curiosity as their motivation for hitting the books, though some, with sentences likely to last their lifetimes, will never get the chance to apply their learning outside of prison walls.