A rare smile crossed Jordan Hicks’ face as he talked about his plans for the future.
“How often do you see an inmate smile?” Lt. Joleen Hickman said to a colleague, Lt. Anthony Lynn.
The lieutenants watched Hicks and fellow inmate Olain Jones smile as they talked about how the Bradley County Jail GED program has given them hope for a future after their release.
Hickman and Lynn said they can see a difference in inmates after they are accepted into the GED program.
“You can see a change and it’s a positive change,” Hickman said. “I think it goes a long way to building their self-esteem.”
Hicks and Jones are two of six to eight Bradley County Jail inmates who will be taking the GED test on Sept. 30.
The facility is the first of its size to receive the approval to give the GED test and will be offering it through a partnership with Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, according to teacher and Deputy Alan Ledford said. Final approval at the federal level was given last week, according to Ledford.
The jail has also been approved as a regional testing center, according to Charlotte Samples, REACH Adult High School testing coordinator.
“It is our hope that in December (when the test is given again) we will be offering this as a testing facility and have inmates from other facilities,” Ledford said. “We are kind of going to be breaking ground by doing this.”
Ledford said the Sept. 30 test is serving as a trial run so the facility can iron out the process.
“We’re proud of this,” Ledford said.
For the Hicks and Jones, passing the test represents the hope of a good start to a new chapter in their lives.
Hicks said he was grateful to everyone who has made the program possible.
“They gave me a chance to better myself,” Jones said.
Both hope to pass the test and pursue higher education when they are released. Hicks plans on attending Cleveland State Community College, while Jones will most likely return to Chattanooga and then transfer to a four-year school.
Although he will be returning to his hometown, Jones said he will not be returning to the life he left behind.
Jones said he had been involved in gangs, but wants to return to his community to show people they could live a better life. He said since he is known in the community he can be a role model to others.
Hicks plans on studying technology and computers. He said the program was challenging, but was worth it. Jones said if he would have known earlier how simple tricks for math and other subjects could help him learn better, he would have stayed in school.
The GED program allows inmates to become students of REACH Adult High School, while still in jail.
“It’s the same (program) only a different location,” Samples said.
Those in the program attend class five hours a week.
This partnership also allows those who are released before completing the program to pick up right where they had left off. Samples said she follows up with these inmates to encourage them to continue in the program and take the test. The program has helped between 35 and 40 inmates start the GED diploma process, according to Ledford.
In the past, similar programs have been tried but have been largely unsuccessful. Partnerships and having a dedicated teacher for the class have made this attempt successful, officials said. Samples said Ledford has really developed the adult education idea, giving the extra push it needed to be successful. Ledford said creating a GED program was something Sheriff Jim Ruth had a strong desire to see implemented.
Another major partner for the program is the Mount Olive Women’s Ministry. Nancy Sherrile’s participation began as a volunteer with the Literacy for Life program at the jail sponsored by the ministry.
“The residents were coming to me and asking if it was a GED program, so that’s when I found out there wasn’t a GED program,” Sherrile said.
She then started pulling resources together. Donations to the program have been made by the women’s ministry, Mount Olive, the Cleveland Bradley County Library and Bradley County Schools.
Another challenge to inmates completing their GED diploma is the cost.
Sherrile said $40 scholarships are already available through REACH adult high school. She said the Mount Olive women’s ministry is working on creating scholarships for the remaining amount.
“I tell the residents when they need a positive face to look for upon release, to look at mine,” Sherrile said. “I’m counting on them to take those positive steps.”
As the GED program starts its fifth class, practical adult education opportunities for inmates are increasing. Classes are now be offered in resume writing, finance and other life skills.
To expand the offerings to inmates, the jail is partnering with the Bradley Cleveland Community Services Agency.
“Our program is growing so fast we just can’t do it ourselves,” Ledford said.