Jail can be a 'learning experience'
Inmate scores in top 3 percent on GED test; other certified as tutor

  

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Most of the folks now residing in Carter County Jail didn't get there because they were sitting in the first pew on Sunday morning. They made a mistake.
   Some of them will learn from their mistakes; others are destined to repeat them. For those who might want to turn their lives around but need someone or some program to point the way, there are limited resources available.
   "If we had some type of program for these inmates they would be better off, as far as going out into society; but we just don't have them," said Jail Administrator Wendell Treadway. "For a long time we had a program dealing with alcohol issues, but I think that kind of faded out."
   One thing the jail has done, Treadway said, is to allow interested inmates the opportunity to get their General Equivalency Diploma.
   "This is a program we have implemented because of the number of inmates that do not have a high school diploma. We allow them to go take the test," he said.
   Some inmates have asked to study for their GED, according to Treadway. "If they're serious, we'll work with them. It's a program for their benefit."
   Treadway said he believes inmates who do attain their GED have less likelihood of returning to jail.
   Tim Harmon, a state inmate and trusty at Carter County Jail, recently tested out for his GED. His scores placed him among the top 3 percent in the nation among those taking the test. Harmon scored a perfect 800 on reading and literature and 3,300 points overall.
   "Before I got locked up," Harmon said, "I had actually planned on going back to school." He now is lined up to receive $10,000 in financial aid upon his release, and possibly more. "I'm going into an electronics course at Tennessee Technology Center. It's one I looked into before I got here. It's something I've always liked," he said.
   Harmon probably would not have gotten his GED while in jail if it hadn't been for another inmate: Warren Parsons, who received his certification while in jail to become a GED peer tutor.
   "He brought the books in, I studied," Harmon said. "It took probably around six months from the time I started until I got the test results back."
   Harmon said at least two other inmates in his and Parson's cellblock also are studying for the test.
   "Warren does the tutoring and brings in the paperwork, the books, and the pretests. You have one test to begin with that you do so they can see exactly what grade level you're actually at. Then you study the books according to where you are. If you score high enough you can go to the GED prep book, do it, and then go take the test. But if you're low, then they'll go through the starter books, you take another test to see if you're up high enough, then you go to the GED prep book," Harmon said.
   Parsons first became interested in the program while a trusty at the old Carter County Courthouse.
   Joyce Elliott, program manager for Carter County Adult Education, said that while Parsons was working at the courthouse he started asking questions about the program.
   "That was what was so totally amazing to us. Like every day, he'd be saying, [for example], 'What do you do in a situation where someone can't write very well?' One day, he was here in the front office and he saw how we were getting people in here to tutor, and he said, 'Do you think I could help some of those people over at the jail?' and we were like: 'Oh, yes. You could!'"
   The GED examiner for Carter County conducted a certification workshop last year which Parsons was allowed to attend, resulting in him being certified as a GED instructor, Elliott said.
   "The thing of it is, he's limited to just the people that are in his cellblock," she said. Since the program's inception, 13 inmates have signed up, and several of those soon will be ready to take their GED test, according to Elliott. However, some of those 13 inmates were released from jail and have not yet returned to the program.
   "Warren got applications from everybody that was interested. We got him the testing materials, he took them into the jail, and he tested everybody that was interested," Elliott said. "He graded the tests and brought them back to us and we saw what level they were at to see what books and materials they needed, and then we got that back to him," she said.
   "Tim Harmon is the first graduate. That's the first time in Carter County history that that has happened. We have always had programs over there, but Tim is the first one that has actually passed the GED while being incarcerated. He is so smart. As of the date when he took his test, out of everybody in Carter County that has went since Jan. 1, he scored the highest. In some of the areas, he did not even miss one," Elliott said.
   "Any inmate that is over there, that has been through our Adult Education program will have the opportunity to receive a scholarship if they get their GED."
   According to Elliott, Sheriff John Henson has been behind the program 100 percent. "He has cooperated with us in getting materials back and forth to Warren, and setting it up to where Tim could be taken to the GED testing center to be tested. He even allowed us to have a graduation ceremony for Tim."
   Linda Bowling, program director, said she believes that allowing Parsons to tutor other inmates has "helped him mentally in every way to accept that he's going to be there awhile. It's given him something to help fill his time and he's done a great job. I hope the judge will see that when he gets up for probation."
   At other jails, according to Elliott, inmates can get special consideration for their study efforts. "At the Jonesborough Jail, they get good time for their time working toward their GED, and if they pass their GED they get 30 days extra credit."
   Elliott said she believes the "good time" credit "will be an incentive to the others that are still in the program to stick with it."
   Bowling said Carter County is fortunate to have a year-round adult education program. Classes are held at Happy Valley six months a year; at the Adult High School Office year-round; and sometimes at Hampton or Unaka. "Wherever the need is," she said.
   "We also have a teacher at the Alliance for Business and Training and we have an area church that has a family literacy program every year. We try to be available day or night. In case someone has to work during the day, they can come at night; and then if they can't come at night, they come in the day."
   Some of the program graduates "come back and help us," Bowling said, "like Diane Buchanan, who does office work."
   There are numerous teachers and tutors who help with the program, according to Bowling. "You've got to have a teacher that understands these people. They're not children; but here they are in school. We bring them in, let them have a cup of coffee, and make them feel at home and comfortable. It's a good atmosphere, I think.
   "We're not real fancy people, but we're here and we're dedicated and we love these people and want to help them if they'll let us. I think we've done good with the majority of them," she said.