School district gives offenders an education behind bars

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By Dora Miller, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Published On: Mar 10 2015 07:15:38 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 11 2015 07:40:31 AM CDT

ABILENE, Texas - Imagine having never sent a text message or not knowing what a computer mouse does, that's the case for many people in prison.

A program - that you may not be aware of - is giving inmates an education behind bars with the hope that learning will keep them from coming back.

Windham School District is targeted to offenders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice without a high school diploma or GED. It started as a social experiment in 1969.

"This is a maximum security unit, most of the guys here have pretty long sentences that they have to satisfy before they get to go home," Keith Morgan, principal, said.

Every day for 11 years, Morgan has reported to work at the TDCJ.

"When that gate slams behind you every morning, it's a wake up call as to where you are and where it is you work," Morgan said.

For teachers like Frank Rose, the goal is to help students function outside of the four walls at the Robertson Unit in Abilene.

"There's people every single day that get out of this God forsaken place and become successful," Rose said.

Rose said he teaches students to take control of their future.

"I look around here and I know a lot of you guys have taken advantage of the opportunities," Rose said. "I mean, look at what you've been doing, you're taking advantage of the opportunity. You have to be a predator."

Students also take classes in math, literacy, vocation, computer skills and cognitive-behavioral recognition.

Some learning it all for the first time.

Kenneth Prince has been locked up for 23 years and came into prison with an eighth grade education at the age of 21.

"At first I didn't want to be in school and I thought about it and said man, I need this, so it's best for me to get it now so it benefits me when I do get out," Prince said.

Prince comes up for parole review in 2016.

"I have a bunch of butterflies in my stomach because I've been incarcerated," Prince said. "I don't know what it's like out there but I have to get my head right and my heart right to want to stay out."

Christopher Milligan, another student, has been in prison since the age of 17, he's set to be released in a couple of months.

"Now, I have to go out there and live life, enjoy life, that's all I can do," Milligan said. "Make the best of it and stay out this place."

He said he knows there's opposition in society, but he's focused on bettering himself.

"I know they're gonna say 'he's a bad guy, he's gonna get locked back up' and things like that but I don't have no worries for that because I know where I'm at, I know what type of education I got," Milligan said. "I know what type of skills that I got."

Jody Addy has taught students like Prince and Milligan for 20 years.

"They're going to be your neighbors one day so it's important to get them on the right track where they can contribute to the community," Addy said.

"It's terribly important that even if a guy has a long sentence, to get them in the mode of investing in themselves so they can give to other people instead of take."

Addy said the joy of seeing her students walk across the stage and the sense of accomplishment they feel, that's what keeps her going.

"It may just be that their achievement is for them and for a long time, our community won't see it, but they have community in here to invest in," Addy said. "That's what I like the most, that we can take a losing situation and create a win-win."



Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - Education taught me... - "Education taught me how to think and analyze problems, which helps me daily in my current employment."

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 IconNEW - Thank you for this program - "My son received his GED through Windham School District. I just wanted to thank you for this program."

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


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Teach for WSD

WSD in Images

Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
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.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
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.

Former Student Survey