MARLBORO COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Five men incarcerated at Evans Correctional Institution earned their associate degrees in business marketing Monday morning.
The men attended classes while serving time.
One graduate we spoke with said getting a college degree while behind bars is surreal. He and the four other men all graduated with honors.
This was all made possible through the U.S. Department of Education's Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. This was created to let incarcerated adults take part in educational opportunities with the help of Pell Grants.
Allan Wachendorfer is a Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice. He said, "People are interested in bettering their lives. When you provide an opportunity like that - they'll take advantage of that opportunity."
Northeastern Technical College (NETC) and Evans Correctional Institution teamed up for the initiative. NETC is one of 65 schools in the country that can offer this and the only school in South Carolina.
About three years ago, they began offering their first-class behind bars.
NETC President Kyle Wagner said, “We don’t just teach them, classes. We teach them a lot of life skills.”
According to experts, post-secondary education in prisons can help reduce the rates of inmates who re-offend by up to 48%.
South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said, "They can now take that degree and go out to society and become successful and not return to what got them here in the first place."
The inmate we spoke said earning the degree wasn't easy but he said all the work was worth it. He hopes more inmates follow in their footsteps.
He said when he is released in 2021 he hopes to continue his education. "I want to get out and do things the right way. Show at the end of the day what is going to be paramount is where I ended up at. No one is immune to the trials and tribulations of life."
Officials said there is already a second cohort of inmates working towards getting their degrees.
Northeastern Technical College said they are expanding the courses they are offering. They said they are working on redesigning some buildings at the prison to hold welding classes.