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Mar. 15, 2016
Second chance dreams
article written by Jenny Gray of The Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald
WELDON, N.C. – Inmate Jerrell Allen stood at a podium at Caledonia State Prison Farm Wednesday and spoke bluntly about his past, and his future. “You all know me and who I used to be," said Allen, a convicted felon. “But our victory is in our accomplishments."

One-hundred male inmates listened intently, some leaning forward in their chairs, as Allen spoke about what it means to him to finish something good for his life. In this case, that means completing a food service course, provided through Halifax Community College.

“We deserve a chance to be successful after prison, to take care of our families, to get what we need and look at ourselves as men," he added. “I implore all of you to become the best men you can become."

A medium-security prison in Halifax County, Caledonia has operated since 1892, originally housing men and women. HCC provides classes at the prison, including masonry, plumbing, commercial cleaning and cooking, plus GED classes.

Prison officials invited Ervin Griffin Sr., president/CEO of HCC, to give the keynote address on Wednesday. Griffin didn’t mince words. “My father was a coal miner who never graduated from high school," said Griffin, who holds a doctorate degree from Virginia Tech. “My mother was a high school graduate." Both encouraged their nine children to become educated, according to Griffin. “My father said, ‘If you get it up here in your head, boy, nobody can take it away from you.’” he added. Griffin encouraged the new graduates to use the day as a new starting point. “It’s not where you start &emdash; it’s where you end up in your life," he said, adding he believes in the men and their ability to overcome their circumstances. “Today could possibly change the rest of your life. I have one simple message: Don’t quit."

Inmate Steven Woods, 27, in prison until 2019, said he’s spent the last six months studying for his GED, a high school equivalency examination. “It'll help me get a job," he said. “I wanted to be a landscaper. I’m trying to complete all the classes I can before I get out."

Leon Oxendine, 56, entered prison in 2008 and hopes to get out in 2023. “I just graduated from plumbing school," he said. “I've been to a lot of other schools, too. It's important to me so when I do get out, I can get a good job and make money."

Others came from HCC to mark the event, including Larry Crisafulli, director of Customized Training and Occupational Extension, who is fully involved in HCC’s prison education program. Ricky Duke, assistant superintendent of programs at the prison, emceed the ceremony.

Duke spoke of what makes or breaks a successful release from prison &emdash; successful, in that the former prisoner doesn’t reoffend and return. “The majority (of prisoners) do not participate in any programming; they simply come in and do dead time, as they call it," Duke said. “Of those involved in education programming, their chance of coming back, or recidivism, is 43 percent less than those that did nothing." Prisoners who earn a certification or diploma have a 13-percent higher chance of finding a job upon release, Duke added. “The greatest thing education can give you is hope," he said. “I don’t see how we can expect to release you the same way you came in. It’s gaining knowledge, making yourself marketable."

Tim Crowder, who teaches the masonry program, said he started out at the “bottom” of his trade as a laborer, and he eventually ran his own business. “Once you get out and get an opportunity to work in a trade," he said, “do a good job with what you do."

Jeff Mullis was Crowder’s teacher assistant, and he also spoke to his fellow inmates. “I felt like I learned lots so I can get out and get a job," he said. “We have to help ourselves so we can have something to look forward to when we get out, and it’s not just a struggle."

Another inmate, Ronnie Long, said he learned two things from taking the HCC courses. “It’s given me a basis on something I can build on when I leave, and confidence, so I can tell an employer, ‘I know this,’” he said. “The main thing is to learn, get out, and stay out."

Richard Scott has been teaching the prison’s GED program. "We've dedicated ourselves to one thing," he said. “To give you an opportunity you didn’t have when you came in here."

James Vaughan, superintendent of the prison, was the last to speak. Throughout the ceremony, he sat in a chair watching his charges, who &emdash; to a man &emdash; were engaged and thoughtfully listening, he said. Vaughan pointed at a saying by Booker T. Washington painted on the wall and read it out loud: “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength. One is pushing down, the other is pulling up. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do anything," he said. “Do the best you can in life."
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Halifax Community College's Mission
Halifax Community College strives to meet the diverse needs of our community by providing high-quality, accessible and affordable education and services for a rapidly changing and globally competitive marketplace.
Media Contact: Dr. Dianne Rhoades, Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Halifax Community College and Executive Director of the Halifax Community College Foundation Inc., dbarnes-rhoades128@halifaxcc.edu, 252-536-7239