25Aug 2016

Giving Up on Education, Even Behind Cells

“Keep trying.” An inspirational advice made by one of the former inmates of The Highlands County Jail, Carrie Ashby when she witnessed how her life has changed with the education she received even behind bars. The stigma of neglect and discrimination are just too much for the inmates whom we are trying to help improve their lives, and having low to no education at all makes the situation worse than it is. Instead of letting the time pass through watching televisions or over thinking, it is a brilliant move to spend funds in educating inmates.

In the nineties, jails used to offer the Pell Grant Program, provided by the federal government as an outreach for students who wanted a college degree but are financially challenged. To be eligible for the program, one has to be an undergraduate in college, a high school graduate, or a GED passer. Because of its eligibility requirement, the majority of the inmates weren’t able to take advantage of Pell Grant as they are mostly high school undergraduates or drop outs. The limited offer made by the government today for GED makes it sound with the current educational backgrounds of the inmates. In the case of Florida, several colleges like South Florida State College offers its professors to help facilitate the preparatory study modules for eligible inmates to take the GED.

One perfect example is Ashby’s story, where she recalled getting in out of jail for around fifteen times. She was not able to finish high school back then, and today she has a near adolescent son who suffers from autism. She just knows that one way or another, her son needed her to give him proper care and a better life. With that in mind, she was able to turn the tables around by enrolling herself to GED while she was locked up behind the bars of The Highlands County Jail and completed the program with flying colors. The General Educational Development exam allows any American or Canadian to have a high school diploma equivalent when the test is passed. This would give way for an individual to be eligible for work with high school diploma requirements. GED can be administered online or in person through Pearson, the GED test developer, which made it possible for Sebring’s county jail to offer the eligible inmates. To be eligible, the inmate must be 16 years old or above, and is not presently enrolled in high school at the time of application and test taking. Some states require the student to be at least at the age of 17 and accompanied by a parental consent. If the test is taken outside the prison, the cost could be anywhere around $120, but is offered for free behind bars.

In an ironic twist of fate, being in jail actually saved lives of many inmates to be able to get a better direction through going back to study and earn a GED to improve their future. And in the statistical study made by New York’s Department of Correctional Services, offering GED to inmates decreased the recurring rate of inmates back to prison cells. Another headline was made about the extreme improvement by 40% reduction of relapses when enrolled in GED.

This astounding result just keeps handfuls of organizations and Sheriff offices adopt the program, believing its effectiveness to help inmates have a better future. As Carry Ashby has once written to her valued GED instructor, Bill Henderson, “Thank you, Mr. Bill, for being my inspiration, being a great tutor and believing in me, you really made a difference at that time in my life. Hats off to you sir. Thanks again for all the help and encouragement you showered on me while I was incarcerated. It did not go unappreciated. You will be a fond memory for me.”1 Truly an inspiring story to keep the good guys do whatever they can to help our folks don’t give up on education, even if they are behind bars.

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