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:

Perry praises WSD graduates for educational accomplishments : ‘You’ve done something you didn’t have to do’ - Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) recently recognized hard work and educational accomplishment in a West Texas prison.

Congressman John Cornyn observes job training at San Antonio Food Bank - U.S. Sen. John Cornyn recently took a tour of training programs at the San Antonio Food Bank, accompanied by WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter, WSD Dominguez State Jail Principal Teresa Craiker and senior staff from TDCJ.

WSD WANTS YOU To help recruit great teachers & earn extra time for yourself! - Correctional educators with Windham School District have some of the best teaching jobs in the state, and your help is needed to get this word out!  WSD is currently recruiting academic and vocational teachers for its schools statewide, and employees are encouraged to help bring in the best referrals and candidates for Windham teaching jobs.

Life re-wired: Houston electrical superintendent credits WSD vocational training for career - "The vocational training I received through Windham School District (WSD) created an opportunity to get a job after release," says former offender Charlie Morris, who transformed prison time into an electrical industry career following his experience in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

'We are Windham' video proudly explains why, how WSD changes lives. Now available online. - "We are Windham. We are ready for change. We are second chances for men and women formerly incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. We change our society." So begins "We are Windham," a recruitment and informational video created by WSD explaining why Windham focuses on helping offenders across Texas become job-ready and change their lives for success upon release.

Success Stories

Success Story IconGED Success Story -
"My son received his GED through Windham School District. I just wanted to 'Thank You' for this program."

Success Story IconPolunsky Unit Success Story -
"He [Mr. Leblanc] taught me things that even the guys rebuilding transmissions for many years didn't know."

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."

Success Story IconNEW - I can now make a living. I’m free - "The welding program helped me build character. Mr. Perry taught me how to talk like a welder..."

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WSD in Images

Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
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.