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:

For WSD Employees only:


WSD employees have from July 3, 2015 to July 17, 2015 to make changes to their insurance benefits for Plan year 2016 (which runs from Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2016). Go to www.ers.state.tx.us to create your login and password. You may need to establish an online account.

When you access ERS Online, you will see your insurance enrollment and personal contact information. During Annual Enrollment time, click on "Benefits Enrollment" to make changes to your benefits for Plan Year 2016. A video member tutorial showing employees how to make annual Enrollment changes is available on the ERS website.

If you will be making changes that require Evidence of Insurability (EOI) approval, such as enrolling in or increasing the amount of optional term life, adding dependent life, short/long term disability you will need to submit an EOI online.

If you don’t want to change your benefits, you do not need to do anything. Your current benefits will continue in plan Year 2016.

Go to the ERS website to find out more information about Annual Enrollment.

Bastrop Man Receives Governor's 2016 Criminal Justice Volunteer Award(AUSTIN) – Garrett Stanley of Bastrop, Texas was presented the "Judy Burd – Windham School District" Award during the Governor's 2016 Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Award program today (April 15, 2016). The award was presented by Dale Wainwright, Chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, and TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston during a ceremony held in Austin.

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.

Message from WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter: Thank you to the WSD Board of Trustees!While January is School Board Recognition Month, the Windham School District thanks the Texas Board of Criminal Justice for serving year round as its School Board.  These nine governor-appointed volunteers tackle the challenging job of governing one of the largest – and most unique -- school districts found in Texas.

Apoyo a la industria: WSD da la gracias a Fluor -  El Superintendente del Distrito Escolar de Windham, el Dr. Clint Carpenter (centro) y el Especialista de la Fuerza Laboral Rex Rhone, agradecen al Director de Artesanía Dean Hamrick de Fluor por el apoyo de la asociación.

Success Stories

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

Success Story IconNEW - Tools to change my own life - "What can I say about Autobrakes? I guess I need to start by saying it's one of the best classes I have ever taken!"

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 IconNEW - I had given up on myself - "I could barely read or write and didn’t even realize I had given up on myself… a great teacher from WSD taught me how to believe in myself..."

Calendar

October 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

Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
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.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.