On December 13, nine female inmates currently serving time in the Tennessee Department of Corrections stood for a photograph. This time it was not a mug shot, but of the inmates receiving their associates of arts college degrees.
It is a happy ending to eight years of studying, taking tests, and attending class in the prison on Wednesday nights. It is all part of a program through Lipscomb University called the "Lipscomb Life Program."
Some of the inmates who graduated will be released back into society within the next 18 months. A few will never leave. It is estimated 98% of inmates who are currently incarcerated in the United States will be released into society. Over 50% of those on parole will return to behind bars due to a parole violation. The program is one way to assist inmates find gainful employment, a usual condition of parole, so they are not part of the returning population.
Self esteem seems to take part in receiving a diploma. There were tears of joy that day. There were certainly a lot of smiling faces.
Inmate Donna McCoy was incarcerated in November of 1997. In December 2013 she received her degree. She is serving a life sentence. She hopes the degree will give her the skills to assist females entering the system, to help them learn about themselves and to stay out of prison. McCoy and a codefendant were charged with first degree felony murder and aggravated burglary when McCoy assisted in the burglary of a home and stabbed to death Theresa Lindsey in Hamilton County.
Tone' Hill, also serving a life sentence, received her degree. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she accepted the scroll.
Markeisha Seagraves was incarcerated in 2001 and will be released in 2015. Tabitha Slack entered the system in 2002 and will also be released in 2015. Both graduated, walking proudly across the stage in traditional cap and gown. Barbi Brown was the speaker for the graduation ceremony. Brown is serving time for Especially Aggravated Robbery.