Nine inmates and two former inmates received their high school equivalency certificates (GED) during ceremonies Thursday Nov. 6, at the Alexandria Detention Center.
Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and Krista Sofonia, Education Coordinator, presented the diplomas at graduation ceremonies with family and friends in attendance.
Receiving diplomas were: F. Arevalo, T. Bailey, R. Boyd, N. Brunson, C. Dixon, J. Farmer, J. Hood, K. King and D. Reddick. L. Estrada and B. Hamilton completed testing after being released, but were invited back to be presented their GEDs.
Dressed in caps and gowns, the recipients walked to their seats to Pomp and Circumstance, the traditional music of graduation events.
Sheriff Lawhorne, a staunch advocate of educational programs for the incarcerated, encouraged the inmates. “Since I’ve been sheriff, I’ve emphasized the importance of sobriety and education. This is the path to a healthier life when you leave here.”
Lawhorne said he “almost didn’t get [his] diploma” in 1976 at Alexandria’s T. C. Williams High School. “Because a teacher cared and helped me, I graduated. Always remember how important this diploma is to you.”
The Sheriff praised the inmates for “heeding the guidance of the people” involved with the jail program. “We are proud of you,” he said.
Sallie Craft, a former member of the Alexandria’s School Board and a current member of the Sheriff’s Office’s Correctional Services Advisory Board (CSAB), praised the inmates for completing the program.
“You are making a step in the right direction,” said Ms. Craft, a former GED teacher herself in 1963. “You’re starting down the path to becoming good citizens, leading to good and productive lives. This diploma will lead you to developing good social skills. Now you have the proper tools. You can dream and make something out of yourself that doesn’t lead to a life of crime. Do something productive. You can leave here with hope of a bright future.”
Mary Hartzler and Michael Strutzel, members of the CSAB, also attended the graduation ceremonies held in the jail’s third floor gymnasium. Melinda Douglas, Alexandria’s Public Defender, is chairman of the Board. Other members include Barbara Brenman, Annie Lou Doster, Joe Errington, Iris Henley and Christine Smith.
Captain Clarke R. Stearns, Inmate Services Commander, said the graduate total represents 69 percent of those who tested. This figure, Stearns said, is above the national average. The next inmate testing is scheduled for mid-December.
A plaque with all graduates’ names was unveiled by Latanya Ervin, Classification Manager, and Gloria Hicks, Volunteer Coordinator. It will be placed in the jail’s second-floor classroom.
GED program volunteers who assisted inmates in their classroom work included Mary Jane Malone, Sally Anne Baynard and the Georgetown University Tutoring Group.
Marleen V. Venter, Alexandria Detention Center Programs Manager, lauded the student-inmates for their hard work.
The GED (general educational development) program is approved by the Virginia Department of Education.