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.


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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:

Letter from WSD: WSD explains program expansion - In our continuing series on the changes and improvements in the Windham School District (WSD) Vocational Trades and Career and Technical Education certifications, we would like to share WSD’s plan for program expansion. New course lengths, course offerings and training opportunities are becoming available for men and women in TDCJ.

Quick Facts School Year 2016 - WSD’s Vision, Mission, Goals and Partnerships, along with a brief summary of SY 2016 highlights.

PRISON EDUCATORS HONORED FOR EXCELLENCE
BEHIND THE RAZOR WIRE

Jody Addy

Excellence in teaching is being recognized within the state prison system as the Windham School District (WSD) announces the selection of Jody Addy of the Robertson Unit (Abilene) as the 2015 Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching Award winner. Addy and finalists Martha Estrada (Sanchez State Jail, El Paso) and Brent Frailicks (Moore Unit, Bonham) were nominated by their peers and selected through a rigorous screening process. The Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching Award is named for Dr. Lane Murray, pioneer superintendent of the WSD, which was formed in 1969.

Brent Frailicks

“We are proud to recognize the Excellence in Teaching winner and finalists as some of the best correctional educators in the state,” WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said. “Recognizing excellence in teaching is one of the most important things we can do. It is our privilege to honor these top three teachers, along with their peers across the state, for making WSD a success. Their enthusiasm, skill and dedication are inspirational to all of us, and life-changing for their students.”

Martha Estrada

Winner Jody Addy teaches literacy skills in the Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) lab at the Robertson Unit, Martha Estrada teaches a Literacy II/III class at the Sanchez State Jail, and Brent Frailicks is a Cognitive Intervention teacher at the Moore Unit.

These three teachers will be honored at the October WSD Board of Trustees meeting in Austin and will also represent WSD at Correctional Education Association meetings, staff development trainings, and other public gatherings sharing current information about correctional education.

 

More Information:

Abilene Reporter News, Tim Chipp

http://www.reporternews.com/news/education/abilene-prison-teacher-jody-addy-has-a-life-full-of-experiences-2ae2b825-db61-3d5f-e053-0100007fe97c-370391911.html


KTXS-TV, Alecea Rush

http://www.ktxs.com/news/abilene-teacher-awarded-for-2-decades-of-work-with-inmates/38048656


Leo Pereida graduates from Texas Tech after 15 years in prison - Pereida earned a bachelor's degree in community and family addiction services from the College of Human Sciences. Saturday morning, he sat in the front row of graduates with nervous anticipation and a smile on his face. He spoke with his fellow graduates often and as his name was read held his head high, knowing that he had accomplished his goal.

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.

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - Learning equals possibilities - "Being incarcerated since I was young, I have had my share of trials and struggles. But knowing every morning that I may..."

Success Story IconNEW - I learned a great deal - "I really enjoyed this class and I learned a great deal. Painting and Decorating is something I always wanted to do and learn."

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

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."

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WSD in Images

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.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
Students at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit strengthen writing skills during a literacy class.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
WSD’s Business and Image Management & Multimedia (BIMM) class offers students the opportunity to learn viable graphic arts and computer skills, helping them prepare for jobs after release.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.