26 inmates at Polunsky Unit in Livingston earn GEDS®

(Part 2 of a two-part series)

By GARY STALLARD, Contributing Writer, LUFKIN DAILY NEWS

26 inmates 

 These 26 inmates at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston received their GED® certificates during a ceremony held in the prison chapel.
State Rep. James White was a guest speaker.

  

LIVINGSTON-“Does the tassel go in the front or the back?”

The inmate at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston had already donned his purple graduation gown, but he wasn’t quite sure how to work the mortar board or the attached tassel.  

His teacher, Betty Lewing, showed him how to arrange the headgear while explaining he’d be having his graduation photo taken as well.

“Do I smile, or give a prison mean-mug?” he joked.   

“Smile,” Lewing ordered, and the man smiled.

A total of 26 inmates from the unit received their GED® (General Education Development) certificates in a ceremony held in the prison chapel this past Saturday. There were family members present, and the guest speakers included State Representative James White.

With a total of 58 inmates working toward passing the most recent test, the graduating members meant that Lewing’s class had managed a 44 percent passing rate – remarkable considering the environment in which these men had to learn, and the environments from which they came.

Some of those graduating came to the unit completely illiterate; one man said before his classes with Lewing, he couldn’t read or write his name.

“I’m very excited,” the man said. “I can already see doors opening for me that have always been closed. I had a decent job before, but I couldn’t go anywhere in it because of my lack of education, and I got frustrated. I can’t wait to use this.”

Another man said the doors opening for him weren’t just those of the educational variety.

“This is bringing me closer to my family,” he said. “I really messed up with all of them, and they haven’t had much to do with me since I got locked up. I don’t blame them. But since I started working on my GED®, I’ve been getting letters from them telling me how proud they are.”

Still another said age and his life experiences have caused him to value his newly earned education more than he ever has.

“When I was in school, I wasn’t a good student at all,” he said. “I made teachers throw erasers at me. I was frustrated with my own lack of ability, so I acted out to draw attention away from not being able to read. I ended up working bad jobs; I even used to shine shoes.

“Being able to read now lets me see a whole lot more of the world. I never want to stop learning now.”

The Windham School District is responsible for the Correctional Education in Texas, and Lewing has been an employee there since retiring from Lufkin ISD. Since she’s begun teaching at Polunsky, the graduating classes have grown from single digits to nearly 30 each time.

As she always does, on Saturday Lewing organized a full commencement ceremony, complete with Valedictorian and Salutatorian sashes, caps and gowns, and a program. Lewing and Ronnie Rawls sang a pair of gospel duets, and White commended the students for their perseverance.

“Every graduation ceremony is special, but considering what you men have gone through to get here makes your accomplishment even more so,” White said. “We live in a society that can be too quick to throw away people without offering second chances. You’re not disposable; you’re men who have made mistakes, and you’re proving you’re ready to overcome those mistakes.

“We want to help. We want to lift up, not lock up.”

 

Published December 22, 2013, in Lufkin Daily News. Reprinted with Permission.

To read Part 1 of this two-part serie please click here

 

Other articles that may interest you:

Prison Educators Honored for Excellence Behind the Razor Wire. - (HUNTSVILLE) November 11, 2015 -- Excellence in teaching was recently recognized within the state prison system as the Windham School District (WSD) Board of Trustees honored three outstanding correctional educators during its meeting in Austin. The three finalists in the 2014-2015 WSD "Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching" initiative were nominated by their peers and selected through a rigorous screening process.

Rep. Toni Rose visits Windham - "It was a great privilege to share information about Windham with Rep. Toni Rose (D-Dallas) and her aide during their recent visit," Hutchins State Jail Principal Henry Linley said. "We enjoyed the opportunity to show her our programs, as well as introduce her to our teachers and staff. Her encouragement and support play an important role in our success."

Career Expo business presentation empowers former offender to succeed - When former offender Peter Delfs returned to prison to give a presentation at a Career Expo at Dominguez State Jail, he experienced a rewarding role reversal. Released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in early 2015, Delfs was in the offender audience at Dominguez State Jail when the 2014 Career Expo was held. Then he returned as a guest speaker.

WSD donates more than $20,000 statewide in 2015 State Employee Charitable Campaign - Windham School District employees opened their hearts and checkbooks in September and October of 2015, donating $20,000.82 to the State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC). Using payroll deduction, cash or check donations and profits from a statewide sale of "We Are Windham" polo and t-shirts, WSD employees generously made gifts to local, state and national charities of their choice.

Pablo Gonzales: Thanks to job-focused training, project manager enjoys work,  family, life - "When I got out of prison with a felony, nobody wanted to hire me," says former offender Pablo Gonzales, who overcame the difficulties of building a career after release from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Thanks to educational opportunities, vocational training and strong faith, Gonzales is now a project manager near San Antonio for American Directional Boring Companies Inc. (ADB). He helps install aerial and underground utility jobs and handles OSP/ISP fiber optics cable work for communication clients in South Austin, such as Google, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

Success Stories

Success Story IconRole Model - Success Story -
"I talk to them about how important education is and how hard I'm trying to prove that to them."

Success Story IconWelding Success Story -
"I'm thankful for the welding program I was allowed to take while locked up".

Success Story IconTo a WSD welding teacher from a former offender student -
"I got a job welding and I had to write and just thank you so much for putting me ahead of the game."

Success Story IconEducation changed my life -
"These opportunities [GED® classes or learning a trade] are great, but WSD is so much more than that; for me it was a change of life."

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WSD in Images

Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
Texas State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill congratulates GED recipients during Spring, 2014, ceremonies. “I am very impressed with the program and with the commitment of the staff and teachers,” she said.
WSD’s Business and Image Management & Multimedia (BIMM) class offers students the opportunity to learn viable graphic arts and computer skills, helping them prepare for jobs after release.
Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.