Four Bulloch County Correctional Institute inmates recently received their General Education Diplomas, and while they are not the first inmates to do so, the four young men are the first to take part in an official graduation ceremony at the facility.
The graduation exercise took place in the correctional institute last week. Mayor Jan Moore and Commissioner Roy Thompson took part in the ceremony; Ogeechee Technical College’s Samantha Smith and Chief Counselor Tina Beckum presented diplomas to Justin Colbert, Matthew Quinn, Darvin Mancil and Curtis Thrift.
Ogeechee Tech provides the instructor for the GED classes, as well as the materials for the students, and the current instructor, Tonia Moore, provides in-class materials twice a week at the facility on Monday and Wednesday evenings.
Bulloch County Correctional Institute Warden Chris Hill said that roughly a dozen have received their GEDs since he arrived at BCCI in 2001.
Once the requirements of the coursework are completed, the inmates take the text on OTC’s campus.
Smith said that the time to complete the requirements and sit for the test varies according to each student. “It depends on how hard they work, how quickly they do the assignments,” Smith said.
All inmates incarcerated at BCCI perform work duties during the day, from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with jobs like operating equipment, building roads, working at the animal shelter, roadside clean-up, or parks and recreation landscape and maintenance.
Hill said, “It takes perseverance. They have to get back in from work and get to class; they have to be willing to go to class and get homework done.”
The bi-weekly, three-hour class, plus homework, leaves little free time.
OTC and BCCI have stipulations and requirements for the inmates that take part in the program, specifically a reasonable release date from the corrections facility. Three of the graduates max out in 2019, one in 2020, however participation in GED classes and other classes, like substance abuse or anger management, give the inmates the opportunity to earn points to get out earlier than projected.
Moore: 'Education changes lives'
Moore, OTC vice president for Economic Development, said, “Educators know the value of education and how it changes lives. That’s why we are so passionate about the program. To watch these four men change their lives in that instant – it’s why we do what we do.”
Recognizing the value of the GED accomplishment, Moore said, “If they don’t have a tool to do something different when they get out, they’re going to do the same thing. We don’t send them to prison to go back to prison.”
Hill takes the opportunity to talk with inmates whenever possible, to encourage and support. He said he tells them often, “Don’t leave prison the same way you came in. Learn something while you’re here, something you can apply to help other people when you get out.”
Hill said the average age of inmates has declined over the years; therefore many of the young men incarcerated either were arrested before the opportunity to complete high school or became high school dropouts after getting involved in alcohol or substance abuse.
Never complacent in his duties, Hill, a 20-year veteran of the system, said, “My situation is no different than theirs. It could’ve been me, but for the choices I made.”
That knowledge gives him the passion and drive to help those he’s in charge of.
“The GED gives them a better start when they get out,” Hill said. “Instead of rearview looking — looking at the mistakes they made or the crime they committed — the GED helps them move forward.”
Future plans for GED graduates
GED graduate Justin Colbert said that receiving the diploma allows him to choose a different career path. Colbert wants to become a neuromuscular massage therapist.
Matthew Quinn said that working hard for the accomplishment will show his three children the importance of having an education. “Bulloch CCI gave me the opportunity and I took it,” he said.
Darvin Mancil said, “It took a lot of studying, practicing and setting my mind to do what needed to be done. The GED will help me get a better career to provide for my family and be a better citizen to society.”
Curtis Thrift admitted that it took a lot of hard work and dedication to become a graduate. He hopes this step will allow further education and lead to a better job.
Moore said, “If we don’t give them an opportunity, we’re setting them up for failure,” and at graduation, reiterated that thought by encouraging them to apply with the city after their release date.
Hill said the facility is rewarded by the state to the tune of $25,000 for every 10 offenders enrolled in the program. In one year, that total became $100,000, and the goal is to use the money for a building behind the facility for future classes.
With a hope to complete the building by the summer of 2018, plans involve inmates constructing the building after an architect assists with the plans.