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:

WSD meets families in PACT Conference Oct. 3 - The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will be hosting a free informational conference for offenders’ families and members of the general public on Oct. 3. The Public Awareness — Corrections Today (PACT) conference will be held at the Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice Center in Huntsville and will be coordinated by the TDCJ Ombudsman Program. Windham School District will be offer a presentation from 1-3 p.m. at the conference, as well as provide one-on-one information and resource materials to participants.

January 2015 is School Board Recognition Month - January 2015 is School Board Recognition Month, and the Windham School District proudly recognizes the crucial role of its Board of Trustees in the lives of offender students and the future of Texas.

Livingston graduation ceremony: Rep. James White joins WSD in marking success - Two special guests celebrated academic achievement during a recent WSD graduation ceremony at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Representative James White was in attendance to offer personal congratulations and present each graduate with a certificate of achievement.

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.

Former offender Granados gives hope to current students through WSD job expo - "I have been out [of prison] for five years, and it has been a very emotional day for me, coming back into a prison environment: the sights, the smells and the tattoos; it has definitely been a trip," J. Granados tells offenders while visiting the Torres Unit in Hondo, Texas. Granados has returned to prison to speak to current offenders, and he is intent on motivating others to succeed — and change. 

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - After more than 16 years - "I graduated from the electrical program in 1998. I found my Windham teachers were real people, and they..."

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

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 IconNEW - Making a positive impact - "I am very excited to be learning a new trade and to be securing employment for myself in the 'real world.'"

Calendar

August 2017
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31

Teach for WSD

jobview sidebar

WSD in Images

An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
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.