Graduation Ceremony Held at Centralia Correctional Center

Kaskaskia College held a graduation ceremony for correctional students in the chapel of the Centralia Correctional Center on Thursday, February 20, with over 70 students earning certificates in subjects such as construction, cooking, restaurant management, electronics, and custodial.


In addition, two inmates earned Associate in Applied Science degrees in general studies, accomplishments that have been unavailable at the correctional center for a number of years.  George Evans, KC’s Dean of Career and Technical Education, and former Director of Education at the Correctional Center, attributes the degree offerings to a combination of the hard work by Scott Crothers, Dean of Student Success, and the availability of Distance Learning classes.


Distance Learning allows students in the College’s Education Centers and the correctional facility to attend classes via an interactive video service.  At the Centralia Correctional Center, this service was installed to allow inmates to attend hearings without leaving the facility.  It was found to be compatible with the College’s equipment, and the IDOC began allowing student inmates to attend these classes, greatly expanding the educational opportunities available to them.  According to Dean Evans, this Kaskaskia College pilot program will reap benefits, not only for the inmates themselves, but for society.


“The one factor that best combats recidivism is education,” Evans said.  “For the general incarcerated population, more than half of prisoners, upon their release, commit more crime and end up back in the system.  For those who complete a degree or certificate, that number is less than ten percent.”


Two students spoke of this in their commencement address on Thursday.  William Davis spoke of “Forks in the Road,” and how the choices one makes determine the choices available later in life.  “We have been down a dark road,” Davis said.  “But in the darkness there was a point of light, the light of education.  By following that fork in the road, we have come to the point where the next forks in our roads will lead us to better opportunities and better lives.”


It takes commitment and dedication to complete an education while incarcerated.  “Because I wear a cap and gown, and hold a certificate, it doesn’t mean that I am done,” Davis said. “I still must choose. I choose for my actions to honor those who have helped us to reach this point; all of the instructors at Kaskaskia College and everyone who believed in me.”


Michael Harless also spoke of choices.  “I have been incarcerated for 21 years,” said Harless.  “I thought the way to survive was to keep my head down, to not be involved.  But I am due to be released in eighteen months, and I started to ask myself ‘What will I do?  Will I be able to find a job?  What skills do I have?’  I made a choice then to embrace the opportunities of education, and now I feel as if the whole world is open to me.”


“My fellow graduates, my advice to you is this,” Harless continued.  “Let your guards down.  I kept mine up for far too long, until I learned that only by trusting others was I able to learn.  Ms. Wolfe ( Tina Wolfe, Current Director of Education at the CCC)  and the instructors from KC earned our trust by treating us as students, not as inmates. How do we thank them for the trust they showed us?  By using what we have learned to make better lives.”


Administrators from KC attended the ceremony, along with IDOC officials.  Students in the cooking program prepared a lunch that was served after the conclusion of the ceremony.


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