Austin American-Statesman - Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts

AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, February 10, 2008

 

Austin American-Statesman Editor Rich Oppel recently served as a GED® graduation speaker at the Travis State Jail. He did a fantastic job as speaker, and he followed up with a very positive column about WSD and its GED® program.


Read the Printed Article

Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts
Rich Oppel

On a recent morning, at the end of a long road that drops into an old pasture and emerges at a rectangle of high fences in far eastern Travis County, pride had to make way for pain in a locked and guarded room.

Two hours after I entered this emotional scene, I drove out, passing a kennel of baying bloodhounds, and questions lingered:

Why the pain? Is it properly distributed?

This was graduation day in the Windham School District. Never heard of Windham? That's because its schools are scattered within the walls and fences of units of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

This particular branch was at the Travis State Jail, located at 8101 FM 969, which houses 1,100 inmates. The school is one of the 88 schools in the TDCJ.

Seated in folding chairs on one side of a large room were 36 men. Some wore blue gowns, others white prison uniforms. Most were between 18 and 35, though a couple of 43-year-old were mixed in.

Their faces were expressionless, eyes deflected in the protective human mask that is useful if you are a felon trying to survive behind bars.

On the other side of the room were 30 to 35 people -men, women and children. They were the fathers and mothers, wives and girlfriends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

When asked if they had anything to say to the prisoners, emotions welled up among these families.

"To my graduate, Julien, my husband, I love you."

"Rowdy, my son, I love you. You make me very proud."

"People make mistakes. Just don't make the same mistake twice, William. We'll set up the business when you complete... your dues."

"We love you. We miss you. Keep up the good work."

"Delton, I hope this is a right step in a positive direction."

"Donald, God has a plan for you. Everyone makes a mistake. Let God lead you."

Among the inmate across from them, eyes reddened, head swiveled, a nervous wave was proffered, sullen faces turned to smiles and finally, eyes met eyes.

There was good reason for pride. Thirteen of the prisoners had earned their General Educational Development (GED®) certificates.

Another 11 had completed courses in business computer information systems, and three had earned certificates in landscape design and construction maintenance.

I felt pain, too, in seeing what these young men had done to their families, and wondered why it was necessary, because you could see these guys working at the local hardware store, hotel, hospital or business office.

Perhaps that is where we will see them next, because their commintment to earning a certificate and learning work skills gives them a good chance of staying out of prison.

The average Windham student never attained a high school diploma, functions at a 6th grade level, has an IQ of 85, and is 34 years old.

Among the 1,100 here at the Travis State Jail, you sense that these 36 are made of the right stuff.

"Congratulations, for putting up with all of the negativity of the dorms," said Ashley Anderson, the building captain, noting that they had borne ridicule by other inmates to seek an education and have a vision for the future while others sat on the edge of their bunks.

As I've written before, I have a GED®, too. That's why I was here. I never served time, but I know that these guys aren't that much different than I was at age of 18. They may have pulled a stick-up or beat up somebody. They got what they deserved, though their families didn't deserve this.

But everybody needs a hand up, and now these guys in blue and white were getting that help.

Help from the warden, Corey Ginsel, and the school principal, Sandy Haak, and teachers like those who showed up for the graduation on their day off -Joe Castillo, Richard Coppedge, Suzanna Grant and Terrence Smith.

And most of all, they were getting help from the families on the other side of the room, the people who shared the pain and still love them.

 

Other articles that may interest you:

Mason Staggs: Education during incarceration leads to long-term employment, life success - Former offender Staggs’ success story frequently inspires incarcerated graduates in Windham School District (WSD). Staggs himself was incarcerated for close to 10 years within TDCJ, serving time on the Ferguson, Hughes and Middleton units. He has now been on the outside for 18 years.

Former inmate beats the odds, gets degree - "I'm doing this for one big reason, to glorify God, he did all of this for me. I put my effort into it but he walked me through it, through it all," said Pereida.

Make a positive difference in countless lives through the 2015 State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC)!

SECCSECC is a two-month charity fundraiser that allows state employees to conveniently make monetary donations to charities of their choice, helping those in need. The SECC will be held Sept. 1 – Oct. 31. SECC involves many state agencies and entities, and WSD is a well-known as a generous supporter. Last year WSD employees contributed an amazing $11,884, proving WSD a leader in giving.

WSD employees participate by making gifts through the Windham campaign, no matter where they work geographically.  WSD employees may participate through job assignment sites to include TDCJ facilities statewide, as well as WSD administrative offices in Huntsville. Unit and regional employees will participate in the WSD campaign at their job site.  Administrative employees in Huntsville will participate in the WSD campaign at their job site.

Donations may be made through payroll deduction or via check and cash.  Each WSD unit campus should designate an SECC contact person, who will then pass on campaign information. Make this person known to the WSD unit staff.   

All employees are invited and encouraged to join the WSD effort for SECC and easily make a great difference in many lives!  

Note to employees:  Specific campaign details will be communicated to units by email. WSD employees should be careful this year to mark their donation materials with “WSD” at the top of all forms, to differentiate from TDCJ’s separate contributions.

GED® Test Changing / Cambios en el examen para GED® - If you qualify for the GED®, take the paper-based test and pass while you still have the opportunity.

Success Stories

Success Story IconCognitive Intervention Success Story -
"I graduated from Cognitive Intervention and the course has had a major impact on me and my behavior".

Success Story IconNEW - I learned to change my perspective - "It’s the education I learned in Cognitive Intervention class that changed me. I learned to change my perspective."

Success Story IconIndependent Data Contractor Success Story -
"Due largely to the training I received from my teacher, I am able to be an independent ...

Success Story IconNEW - Better future after prison - "It's mind-blowing and inspirational to know that you can have a better future after prison"

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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.
Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
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.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.