October 21, 2015
Story and photos by Brandon Steinert
Passion, spirit and hope were frequently used words employed by numerous speakers to describe inmate learners at the 11th Annual Learning Celebration on Tuesday evening at Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
Barton Community College, Ellsworth Correctional Facility and the Kansas Department of Corrections highlighted the success of inmates who have taken the initiative to pursue their educations while incarcerated.
“Society will one day reap the benefits,” said one inmate learner named Alan, who addressed the crowd on behalf of an inmate volunteer group called the Jaycees. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste; I can think of nothing more fitting to our situation. One thing I learned in the time I’ve spent incarcerated, is you never know when you might meet somebody capable of greatness.”
One of the benefits of educating inmates most frequently underscored by those involved is reduced recidivism. Most inmates will eventually be released into society. The difference between releasing a criminal and a productive member of society is the opportunities afforded to the individuals and the abilities they possess to provide for themselves and their families.
Another inmate, Parrish, has been incarcerated for more than 23 years, but will release March 8 of 2016. He began his education through Barton at Ellsworth Correctional Facility in 2012. He has taken 57 credit hours and maintained a 3.87 GPA.
“I can’t understate the importance of (these opportunities),” he said. “If it wasn’t for this, the only job skills I would have are basic labor, sweeping and mopping floors. The jobs I’ll be able to get with these classes are way better.”
Parrish intends to find a welding job after his release.
Of the dozens of inmates who crossed the stage Tuesday evening, many had to use outside help to pay for the classes, whether through grants or family members. A few were able to enroll thanks to private donors who have supplied scholarships specifically for inmates hoping for a brighter future.
Timothy is one inmate who received a scholarship Tuesday.
“I am just beyond grateful that they did this – they gave their money for this,” he said. “It’s hard to get into classes here, so I’m thankful I had the opportunity. I’ve taken 15 hours toward an associate in general studies. It’s been a tremendous blessing.”
“Every single one of you has something to offer, and you have a responsibility to yourself to figure out what that is,” said GED Instructor Luke Seitz, who delivered the closing remarks.
Dozens of other inmates with stories similar to Parrish, Timothy and Alan were recognized during the learning celebration for reaching milestones in their educations through Barton’s Building Academic Skills In Correctional Settings (BASICS) program.
Some were awarded a GED or recognized for achieving Work Ready status as recognized by the state of Kansas. Others had taken the next step and earned certificates in a trade like welding, computers or manufacturing skills.
All of these opportunities are afforded to inmates thanks to grant funding and the drive of several employees and administrators at Barton and Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
Barton President Dr. Carl Heilman encouraged the inmates to keep going with their education, and to value it as an investment that can’t be taxed, stolen or lost.
“Prove to yourself and to others perhaps that you’re worthy,” he said. “Seize the opportunity. Seize life.”