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:

Governor Greg Abbott meets Windham School District Principal Teresa Craiker while both visit with veterans about job opportunities during the recent Red, White and You job fair in San Antonio.  WSD was appreciative of the opportunity to talk to veterans about job openings in the school district. Craiker, who is principal at Dominguez State Jail, joins Windham principals statewide who serve as recruiters at events throughout the state.

Please fill in the following information and an application packet will be mailed to you as soon as possible.

 

If you have any question, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call (936) 291-5303

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.

Texas Tech Grad Goes From Prison Jumpsuit to Cap and Gown - On Saturday, Pereida will put on his black cap and gown and walk into the United Supermarkets Arena, “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background. Along with more than 2,300 other graduates, he will walk across the stage, shake hands with his dean, smile for the camera, toss his cap into the air and have a diploma with Texas Tech University embossed at the top. He is 50 years old.

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.

Success Stories

Success Story IconInspiration Success Story -
"You are inspiring people you haven’t even met!"

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

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WSD in Images

Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
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.
Students at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit strengthen writing skills during a literacy class.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.