In an exciting conclusion of events, approximately 40 inmates who participated in the Education Based Incarceration program received either a high school diploma or certificate of completion for vocational training. Inside one of the classrooms at the Pitchess Detention Center-North County Correctional Facility, the inmate students reunited with teachers, mentors and Department personnel to receive their documents of completion, their virtual receipts of achievement and success.
Education Based Incarceration is a fully-functional educational network within the Los Angeles County jail system. It is comprised of sworn and non-sworn Sheriff’s Department personnel who work hand in hand with charter high schools, volunteer organizations and religious volunteers. This innovative program offers inmates educational opportunities, vocational and hands-on job training, and many other life-changing services.
Through Five Keys Charter School, the Education Based Incarceration Unit provides programs which may assist all interested incarcerated men and women to reach their full potential through education, empowerment, self-esteem, creativity, and self-respect; it strives to make them better parents, spouses and productive citizens in their communities. Depending upon their course, each student completed an average of eight weeks per course.
Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington, who oversees the Custody Operations branch of the Department, addressed the graduates. “This class is to be commended for their hard work and dedication. You fulfilled all the necessary requirements which will help you become more productive citizens,” he said.
Dr. Clarece Weinraub, Southern California Region Director for Five Keys Charter School, also spoke and offered encouraging words to inspire the graduates to continue their pursuit of higher things.
Several students also spoke and offered a private view of their life experiences which led them to incarceration, and of how their mindset, hearts and outlooks changed with education and encouragement. Program graduate Joe L. Hernandez returned to speak at the event. He recalled growing up in an environment in which he was taught that going to prison brought recognition, so when he grew up, he could be a “big G (gangster).” After all of his life changes, he found fulfillment in education; he made good marks and pushed himself forward, leaving the bleak possibilities unrealized.
In the end, Joe came full-circle in his thoughts and said, “I’m still a ‘G.’ It just changed: I’m a Graduate. I’m in a Graduate program.”
The students were invited to come forward to receive their diplomas. Principals Kimberly Medendorp and Rachel Dalton presented the diplomas or certificates to each individual recipient, who proceeded down a line of extended hands of congratulations from Sheriff’s Department executive staff and Five Keys Charter School associates. In a meaningful motion, the students became official graduates and moved the tassels on their caps from left to right.
It was easy to see the graduates’ faces and smiles beamed with happiness. This was an especially proud moment because many of their mothers and family members were present to watch them receive their diplomas –a satisfying event for which many of the parents went through much hardship and worry, waiting for their sons to realize their worth and reach their goals.
Since the inception of the Education Based Incarceration in fall, 2012, this is the largest graduating class. This ceremony is not only a landmark event for the participants who dedicated themselves to achievement, but for the program which is clearly demonstrated through attendance and success to be relevant and working for good.
Pictures from the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department Information Bureau (SIB).