Inmates learn while locked up, earn GED

Dustin Whited received his GED while incarcerated at Charles B. Webster Detention Center.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Inmates in Richmond County received a second chance at making a better life for themselves.
The men may have been shackled for crimes they committed in the past, but Tuesday’s experience is one that could be the key to freedom and future success.

The graduation exercises were held in the lobby of the Charles B. Webster Detention Center.  After a welcome and invocation, the group of law enforcement, family and inmates heard from Terry Elam, Augusta Technical College President.

“We’re invested in you guys. We expect a dividend,” he said of the money used to fund the program.

It was pomp and circumstance in prison. Three men may be doing time for the crime, but they used that time wisely.

Augusta Technical College Vice President of Economic Development Lisa Palmer gave remarks during the program.

“One day you’re going to walk out and this GED is really going to mean something to you,” she said while teasing the graduates that they probably weren’t listening to her for staring at their diplomas.

While confined in Richmond County, Bilal Givens, Steven McDowell and Dustin Whited each earned themselves a piece of the future, their GED. The adult education program started last fall in a packed classroom at the detention center. But Sheriff Richard Roundtree said his goal to make it happen started years ago with a conversation with previous Sheriff Ronnie Strength.

“His words to me then was, as Sheriff, it’s not my job to educate them, it’s my job to lock them up,” Sheriff Roundtree recalled. “That gave me the motivation. I knew I wanted to be Sheriff because I wanted to change that philosophy.”

Roundtree worked with  Elam, who utilized a $150,000 grant to educate behind bars.

“A year ago the governor asked us if we would contribute what we call Tech Ed, could some of that funding be taken away by the legislature, put into the Adult Ed program to hire additional teachers for innovative programs,” Elam explained. “It cost us each a portion of money, $1.2 million. Out of that $1.2 million we were then asked to ask for innovative grants. This is one of the grants we asked for.”

Sheriff Roundtree said he’s hoping a change on the inside will help inmates outside.

“Once they are released from our facility or any other state facility they have the chance to be productive members of society and we want to be a part of that,” he said.

Sheriff Roundtree said he’s seen the prison system go from only a bible being allowed inside to a full library.  There are more than a dozen inmates ready for the practice GED exam, so another graduation will happened soon.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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