Education Behind Bars

April 20, 2007

Reported by: Britney Glaser

In the United States, more than two million people are currently serving time behind bars.  Here in Southwest Louisiana, there are close to 2,000 inmates at the Allen Correctional Center in Oberlin. While many of these inmates will be in jail for decades to come, some are making their preparations for life outside those walls.

For passers-by, it might look like a normal day at the Allen Correctional Center, but inside the walls, this day was not so ordinary for more than 300 inmates.

As the inmate band, "Storm Surge" sang an originally written song, hopeful graduates of all ages at the Allen Correctional Center awaited a major accomplishment today.  This is graduation day.

Salutatorian Stephen Tweedle gave the speech at the ceremony.  He says, "The GED diplomas that we are receiving today shall serve as evidence from the progress that we envision."

Some of the diploma candidates never thought they would see this day...let alone behind bars.  Sherry Johnson has been incarcerated for eight years, and could be there for another 20.  After dropping out of high school in the 12th grade, finally receiving his GED was an amazing experience.  "It was a big accomplishment," says Sherry, "I'm glad I made it and saw it through."

Besides accomplishing a personal goal, these graduates say receiving a diploma gives their families a brighter hope for the future.  Dee Johnson is Sherry's wife, and she came along with their young daughter to see Sherry take his first steps as a graduate.  Dee says, "As long as the kids see the parents achieving, it gives them the inspiration to achieve as well."

Stephen's family lives out of state, but he says completing this program will mean a lot to them.  "They can now see that I'm trying to make a difference and it makes them feel a little more secure and a little more safe around me."

While the reasons these inmates decided to pursue an education might vary - the benefits they will receive when they are released from jail are shared.  Todd Jermaine Hughes is currently working through the education program at Allen Correctional Center.  He says, "I got locked up at a young age and I missed out a lot."  Todd hopes to have a more solid educational foundation when he is released in the next 15 years.

Stephen's story is a bit different.  He says it was recognizing the necessity of education that made him enroll in this educational program.  "I started getting sick of being in ignorance, sick of being in confusion, so I was really noticing that education is necessary."

Necessary not only in the lives of these men, but for society as a whole.  Joanna Sneve, Education Director at Allen Correctional Center, says, "I do not want to send someone back out on the street the same way they came in."

Stephen says he hopes to become a counselor one day.  It's a dream he hopes to see come true with his release in 2009.

24 men received their GEDs today through the Center's educational program, and dozens more graduated in the upholstery, culinary, computer and carpentry programs.