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:

Preparing tomorrow's workforce for industry: TIC training manager explains benefits of WSD partnership - "As a company, our partnership with institutions like Windham is imperative because we are so short handed in the industry. We have to look everywhere we can to provide any amount of training that helps us get somebody to where they need to be overall to benefit our company. The training program that WSD has gets them a step closer to where we need them to be.

WSD partnership with San Antonio Food Bank enriches graduates, gives back to community - The San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB) recently held a commencement ceremony for students participating in the Texas Second Chance Warehouse Program. This partnership between Windham School District (WSD), Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the SAFB allows currently incarcerated offenders to participate in a 100-hour course. They work with pallets, forklifts and customer orders, learning “all of the ins and outs of making the SAFB an effective, smooth-running, logistical operation,” said SAFB Chief Development Officer Michael Guerra.

WSD expands vocational programming, course lengths, training opportunities - WSD is proud to share its plan for program expansion through an ongoing series of changes and improvement in the Vocational Trades and Career and Technical Education certifications. New course lengths, course offerings and training opportunities are becoming available to men and women in TDCJ. In the past, courses in vocational trades matched the course requirements for Windham, rather than just the hours needed for certification. While completing the total hours in a course will provide additional skill practice, many students finished the skills much faster than the course was completed.

WSD & TDCJ: Gatesville tour for Governor's staff focuses on partnerships, successful re-entry efforts - Board of Trustees Chairman Dale Wainwright and Windham School District staff hosted eight members of Governor Greg Abbott's staff for a tour of the Woodman State Jail and maximum security Hughes Unit. They were joined by Chairman of the Board of Pardons and Parole David Gutierrez and other leadership from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Message to WSD employees:
State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) 2017: NOW – Oct. 31!

Together We Can! - secctexas.orgOnce again Windham School District is privileged to support the State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC), allowing employees to make donations to eligible charities of their choice. Employees at every campus have the option to participate, and WSD is proud of the legacy employees promote through caring for others.

The Windham School District raised $22,314 statewide last year for SECC, topping the 2015 total of $20, 470.
This year's WSD goal is $24,800!

If you are on a unit, you will need to turn in your SECC contribution, cash or payroll deduction (the easiest way!) ASAP to the school office or WSD designee. Donations will then be sent to Dina Valenta in the WSD Administration Business Office and become part of the WSD campaign total. Charity choices and codes are found in the SECC booklets at each school site or go to http://www.secctexas.org/. Forms should also be available at your work site.

SECC Silent Auction winner Marlise Golden celebrates her winnings and the opportunity to help others in need.

SECC Silent Auction winner Marlise Golden celebrates her winnings and the opportunity to help others in need.

If you are in the WSD administration offices, please visit the Superintendent's Office to make your gift to the charity or charities of your choice! Donations may be made with checks, cash or payroll deduction (the easiest way!). In addition, WSD Administration's Annual SECC Silent Auction is scheduled for Oct. 5 in Huntsville (10 a.m. – 2 p.m. ) All employees and WSD friends are welcome to participate, and the auction features hundreds of items in a wide variety of values. Unit and school fundraisers may also involve silent auctions, bake sales, food sales and other events. Everyone is encouraged to also enjoy participating in SECC events held by TDCJ and other agencies.

For the third year, WSD fundraising for SECC will include the sale of official WSD shirts and jackets to school district employees. New items will be hoodies and unit vests/aprons. Proceeds will go to designated SECC charities. More details regarding shirt orders and will be emailed to employees in mid-September.


How do WSD employees help us meet the overall WSD fundraising goal?

  1. Make a cash, check or payroll deduction donation at your job site.
  2. Order a new WSD shirt or hoodie (profits to SECC!) –or a few! – Details to be announced soon!
  3. Participate in WSD fund-raising activities at your site for SECC.
  4. Enjoy the privilege of helping others in need!

SECC Silent Auction bidder Melinda Cobb bids on special items while supporting her favorite charities.

SECC Silent Auction bidder Melinda Cobb bids on special items while supporting her favorite charities.

Unit employees should be sure their donations are sent to Dina Valenta in the WSD Business Office in Huntsville, preferably as a campus group.
Do not use truck mail. Please hand deliver or use U.S. Post Office (campus donations need to be sent through the registered mail with tracking number; do not send cash through the regular or truck mail).

Your participation and donations are appreciated! Please join us in helping make a difference in many lives!

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - I now have a good job - "My Windham teachers showed patience, effort, and kindness; they were very helpful"

Success Story Icon NEW - 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 - They didn’t give up - "It makes me feel really good to know that these guys aren’t giving up just because they’re in prison."

Success Story IconRole Model - Success Story -
"I talk to them about how important education is and how hard I'm trying to prove that to them."

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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.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
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.
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.