Current and former Louisiana prison inmates earn degrees


GRAY, La. (AP) — Graduate caps and gowns have replaced prison uniforms as 14 current inmates and three former inmates of the Lafourche Parish Jail received diplomas.

Two are college graduates, one with a bachelor’s degree and one with an associate’s degree. Fifteen others, including three former inmates, received their high school equivalency diploma.

About 45 family members, friends and law enforcement officials attended the ceremony June 21 at the Covenant Church in Gray.

“Use this day as a stepping stone to a brighter future,” said class representative Christopher White. “I want you to show the world that we are more than a statistic.”

White, 29, earned a bachelor’s degree in arts and applied communication from Ashland University in Ohio and is part of the prison’s transitional work program. He also obtained minors in business management and business administration.

White said he didn’t want to share his crime, just that “I made a stupid decision.” He said his brother had died, which led to the decision, and shortly after his incarceration, his wife died.

White encouraged fellow graduates not to let past mistakes define them and said sacrifices had to be made to achieve the goals. He gave up a year of work release to complete his education and did so while working 80 to 100 hours a week.

“It’s not easy to balance full-time work and school duties,” he says. “I had to give up everything unrelated to self-improvement: TV, socializing, recreational activities, and anything that got in the way of me achieving my educational goals.”

“No one will do for you what you will do for you,” he added.

With her degree, White now hopes to open an electrical business.

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre told graduates that success requires knowledge.

“You have a degree, diploma or certification and a sense of self-satisfaction that no one can take away from you,” he said. “I want you to stand in front of everyone else who is in your situation…and you can be a symbol to let them know this is achievable.”

Fully accredited university degrees were awarded by Ashland University. It has a correctional education program in Louisiana and other states.

Kimberly Evans, Ashland state director for Louisiana, said the program hopes to start in Terrebonne Parish next year.

Educational achievements improve inmates’ chances for a successful transition to the community, Webre said after the ceremony. Inmates face many obstacles on this journey, and a degree is a valuable tool in finding employment.

“The academic realm is a realm of individual achievement,” Webre said, “and it shows employers that they haven’t just spent their time incarcerated waiting to be released.”


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