The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered programming efforts in correctional facilities nationwide. However, it hasn’t stopped CoreCivic from continuing to find ways to offer important, life-changing services to those in our care, including educational opportunities. And thanks to the work of CoreCivic educators and staff, more than 125 students from two facilities took part in graduation ceremonies in September alone.
On September 10, Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville, Tennessee, hosted a graduation ceremony to recognize 21 students for their educational achievements, and on September 28, Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville, Oklahoma, hosted a graduation ceremony for more than 100 students.
Among the 21 graduates at Trousdale, four earned their high school equivalency (HSE) diploma, and 15 completed the Career Management for Success (CMS) course. Two others earned industry-recognized certifications (IRCs) — one receiving a certificate in masonry and another in construction core safety.
At Davis, the graduating class consisted of 34 students who earned a HSE diploma, and 74 who earned an IRC in electrical, computer information processing, or horticulture.
"These graduation numbers are pretty remarkable considering much of our education programming slowed to protect residents and staff during the height of the pandemic last year,” said Mark Gentry, warden at Davis. “We're grateful that we have been able to safely resume programming this year so these individuals can stay on track to meet their education goals, and ultimately, their career goals when they are released."
This most recent group of graduates at Trousdale follow a 16-student class that graduated in June. Joseph Brewer, who graduated in the June class, shared his education journey following five months of dedication to his schoolwork.
"I have always wanted to have an education. Now that I have my [HSE], I can go to college like I have always wanted to do," Brewer said. "Earning my diploma motivates me because it tells me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it."
After some reflection, Brewer shared a few of his goals following incarceration.
"I hope to go to college and complete my parole. I also want to speak to other troubled teens to let them know that life can be way better than what it is now [for them] – they just have to put their minds to becoming a better person," said Brewer.
Brewer encouraged other returning citizens who may be considering furthering their educations.
"Just because you are incarcerated doesn't mean you get any less of an education than anyone else. Put your mind to it and better yourself for yourself. Don't ever give up on yourself. Once you get your education, don’t stop there – always go beyond your expectations," he said.
Much like Brewer, during the September graduation ceremony, Trousdale's education staff also encouraged student-inmates to continue their pursuit of learning and maintain an attitude that is open to positive change.
"Change should be seen positively. Change can lead to individual growth, which could change the path you choose and the new life you could live upon release,” said Trousdale's Educational Counselor Monica Burns-Dunnagan, Ph.D., to the graduating class. “When you choose to wake up in the morning and learn even one new vocabulary word, you have changed the way you view your world. Let change be a light in your day,"
According to a study conducted by the Rand Corporation, justice-involved individuals who enroll in educational programming while incarcerated decrease their chances of returning to prison by 43 percent. This year, education staff at CoreCivic are working diligently to help even more students earn an HSE, IRC, or both.