17 graduate at jailPublished 9:59pm Friday, December 6, 2013
Seventeen new graduates see bright futures ahead after completing a daunting task — earning their GED or high school diploma while incarcerated.
The Western Tidewater Regional Jail held a graduation ceremony for the class Friday morning. While small by the standards of most graduating classes, it was a record-breaker for the jail’s education program, education director Ronnie Sharpe said.
Sixteen of the graduates, ranging in age from 18 to 42, earned their GED, and Demetrius Bennett earned a high school diploma, having been lacking only a few credits when he entered the jail. An 18th participant, Caroline Taylor, received a Career Readiness Certificate after graduating in an earlier ceremony.
In many ways, it was a typical ceremony, with blue caps and gowns, smiles, photos and “Pomp and Circumstance.” There were speeches — some short, some long, some funny and some serious — and words of inspiration. One student said the hardest part of the class was getting up early.
But unlike many high school students, the graduates have overcome many hurdles — the difficulty of studying surrounded by all of the jail’s distractions, for instance, and perhaps most importantly self-doubt.
“I never did nothing,” Robert Harris said. “I never really finished anything I started. Obtaining my GED was not an easy task.”
Harris said having his GED will help him turn away from his former life when he is released.
“I don’t have to sell drugs anymore, because when I fill out a job application, I can check yes, I have a GED.”
Mary Bannister and Mary Delaney both hope to attend community college when they are released.
“It’s really a great accomplishment for me,” Bannister said.
Delaney added the class was “a chance to get my priorities straight” and said she wants to become a registered nurse.
Others have goals as well, such as going to college for business management for Alquinton Beamon and going to barber school for Kirk Jones.
Jones said he participated because he wanted to “let my actions speak louder than my words.”
“At first I was like, ‘Who’s going to care? We’re convicts,’ but then I was like, ‘I care,’” he said.
Harris said he obtained his GED “so I can better myself and have a better future.”
There was extra motivation for him, too: “I wanted to give my nieces and nephews something to look up to besides the birds.”
The graduates were as follows: Demetrius Arline, Alquinton Beamon, Demetrius Bennett, Alfredo Calogero, Timmie Denson, Jeff Fowlkes, Robert Harris, Michael Hemmis, Kirk Jones, Shawn Jones, Samuel Porter, Johnny Simpson, Michael Tucker, Mary Bannister, Mary Delaney, Felicia Felton and Dania Soliman.