To hear the story of Pamerson Ifill's childhood, you learn of a boy growing up in poverty in Barbados, who lost his mom when he was 9-years-old, ran away at 13, and as a result of fighting, was headed toward the criminal justice system. But Ifill's story takes a turn in his teen years when a police officer encouraged him to start boxing. Little did Ifill know that this would set him on the path to becoming one of the most successful light heavyweights in Barbados and to being recruited by a Brockton gym to box professionally. 
While training and boxing in Brockton, Ifill graduated from Massasoit Community College and then enrolled at Stonehill College to study political science. Two months after earning his bachelor of arts degree at Commencement in 1992, he boxed his last professional fight. Ifill then started his career in probation services, climbing the ranks over the next three decades, while also earning a master's degree in management of human services from Brandeis University. 
In November, Ifill was appointed the commissioner of the Massachusetts Probation Service. With strong Stonehill roots, he returns to campus to teach courses in criminology as an adjunct professor. Here, Ifill shares lessons from the boxing ring, memories of Professor Herbert Wessling's mentorship and how he has found Lux et Spes in his own life. 

What drew you to your career in probation services?

I was living upstairs on the sixth floor at the Brockton YMCA and training and boxing out of Petronelli's Boxing Gym. While going in and out or working out in the gym, I would often see a lot of young boys being escorted by staff through the building. I soon learned they were in the custody of the Department of Youth Services. The thought of working with and helping mentor young boys in trouble with the juvenile justice system piqued my interests. I applied for and was hired by the YMCA's Boy's Shelter Care Unit in 1987. This began my journey into gaining the experience that would lead me six years later to apply for and obtain a job as a Probation Officer with the Massachusetts Probation Service in 1993.

What is a lesson that boxing has taught you?

There are a lot of lessons learned through boxing not easily taught elsewhere. The one that stands out most for me is that regardless of where you come from, or the burdens faced in life or the obstacles that lie before you, you can overcome and conquer most if not all of them through the power of self-belief, will and determination. As someone who experienced tragedy, loss and trauma at an early age and lived in poverty most of my childhood, boxing for all its brutality taught me that hard work and discipline can lead to success.

As an adjunct professor, what is a piece of advice that you share with students?

I ask students all the time to step outside of their immediate circles, outside of their comfort zones, and be willing to meet and engage with new people from across all the different dimensions of diversity. It is at these intersections of race, class, ethnicity, culture, religion, gender and other aspects of diversity where we as individuals experience growth and deepen our cultural understanding about ourselves and others. 

Can you share a Stonehill experience from your student days that had a lasting impact?

The most impactful experience I have had at Stonehill was my introduction to Professor Herbert Wessling, professor emeritus of sociology, in 1989. Professor Wessling had a knack for picking diamonds out of the rough. He said, at the time, that he saw in me someone who with the right guidance and support had enormous potential. But his insight went beyond that—Professor Wessling was ahead of his time. He understood issues of diversity and inclusion and looked to ensure that a student from Barbados could come and find a home and place at Stonehill where success was possible. 

Stonehill’s motto is Lux et Spes or Light and Hope. What does this mean to you?

I must say that I struggle with mottos. However, I will say the Stonehill motto when I reflect on it, really correlates with my journey through life. As a young boy growing up, I had two friends that, despite my best efforts, always stayed extremely close. Yes, poverty and hunger! And the only thing that kept them at bay was the belief that there had to be a light at the end of the tunnel, there had to be hope and optimism. These were the only things that kept me going. So, whether through fate or luck, as I reflect upon it and my journey, I suppose that Lux et Spes or Light and Hope is not just a motto, it is a journey through life, my life. It now allows me to teach and share my experiences with a new generation of students at Stonehill. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Event: Community Justice Support Panel

On March 26, Pamerson Ifill '92 and Hon. Michael Vitali will discuss the work they do to help clients improve their lives. Email the Martin Institute at, or click below, to register for the event.