June 10, 2021
Story and portrait by Brandon Steinert
This is the second of four stories about how Barton's educational programs in correctional facilities aim to help inmates lead productive lives upon release.
Alfred Obiero felt trapped long before he was incarcerated. He said he was on the streets in Tulsa, Okla., working a dead-end entry-level job at a bus shop. He was denied entry into a welding program because he did not have a high school diploma and was feeling hopeless.
A string of bad decisions, including drinking and driving, landed him in the corrections system three years ago. He will be released in 2024, but things will be different. He will re-enter society with both a welding certificate and a high school equivalency credential.
Obiero was introduced to Barton Community College’s welding program at Ellsworth Correctional Facility while incarcerated and he jumped at the opportunity to improve his chances at a better life after his sentence is served.
“I have three kids who have needs right now,” he said. “When I am released, I’ll be able to take care of my kids and be a good role model.”
He intends to continue his welding education after he is released and said he is grateful to the instructors who helped him see his potential.
“Our welding instructor Alan Collins – you could see his passion for welding and how much he wanted us to succeed,” he said. “He never treated us like we were convicts. He saw something in us and that motivated us. I loved the class, but when you love a class it’s because of the teacher.”
Obiero said his biggest regret is not sticking with the pursuit of education in his early 20s.
“I would have made more money and would have thought twice about drinking and driving,” he said. “I wish I would have done this years ago.”
With the past is behind him, Obiero said he’s ready to show the world the best version of himself. He wants his children to admire his education rather than focus on the time he had to spend incarcerated.
“I am coming out a changed man and my kids will see that in me,” he said. “I know I’m their role model. If I have a degree, I can say ‘want to be like me? Get a degree.’”
Reducing recidivism with education
Most inmates in the correctional system will be released back into society, and many are readmitted after repeating an offense or committing a new crime – a trend called recidivism. The Kansas three-year recidivism rate is 33 percent.
The difference between a world where Obiero might become a statistic as a repeat offender, and one where he re-enters society as a contributing and productive citizen, is the quality of opportunity available to him at the time of transition.
Enter the State of Kansas’ Pathway to Career High School Equivalency Program and a partnership between the Kansas Department of Corrections and Barton Community College. Inmates can take courses and select career and technical programs offered by Barton, in a face-to-face setting while incarcerated. The Pathway to Career program allows students to earn a high school equivalency credential by passing certain college courses rather than requiring the credential before being allowed to take college-level classes.
The hoped-for result is a more successful transition to society for releasing inmates, which translates to reduced recidivism. Obiero was one of the first four to complete the program. All four were Barton students at ECF.