GATESVILLE — Seventeen prison inmates celebrated earning their college degrees Saturday in annual commencement exercises at the maximum security Alfred D. Hughes Unit in Gatesville.

Officials from Killeen’s Central Texas College and Texas A&M University-Central Texas joined family and friends to bestow official recognition, honors and confer college degrees as part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Rehabilitation Programs Division.

CTC offers associate degree programs in general studies and interdisciplinary studies through the prison system, along with vocational programs in restaurant operations and office assistant technology. A&M-Central Texas, meanwhile, offers a Bachelor of Business Administration-Management degree program.

Inmates, also known as offenders, pay regular tuition rates, and textbooks are issued by the state for a semester, returned and then re-used. Consumable course materials, such as paper and pencils, are also provided by the state. Tuition is paid directly by individual students, and some eligible inmates have access to state “Post-Secondary Education Reimbursement” loans, along with Texas Public Education Grant funding, and eligible veterans may use Hazelwood Act benefits.

The prison education programs are designed to “provide incarcerated Texas offenders with a pathway to a more productive future and a greater likelihood of post-release employment.” According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarcerated people who participate in prison education programs are 43% less likely to go back to prison than those who do not.

On Saturday, nine Gatesville inmates were recognized for earning associate degrees from CTC, including Kevin Rook, Jim Tijerina, Kristofer Marsh, John Shaffer, Alexander Rivera, Joe Moreno, Charles Ballard, Lucas Strait and Brandon Gordon.

Another eight inmates received their bachelor’s degrees: Gregory Bryant, Kenneth Coble, Brian Hawthorne, Korey Henderson, Scott Marshall, Alan Powell, Randy Raspberry and Jason White.

After members of a prison band delivered a rousing rendition of the hit song, “Heaven,” made famous by the popular Texas band, Los Lonely Boys, that had audience members clapping in rhythm and singing along, guest speaker Tim Moore, an adjunct professor at A&M University-Central Texas, told the graduates they should be proud of their accomplishments, and to remember that challenges will be strong when they are released and go back into the outside world.

“There are three things I want you to remember,” Moore said. “Number one, be committed. It is difficult enough in our society to change careers or start a new job. Be committed.

“Number two, be honest. Be ready for the tough questions – What have you been doing for the past 10 years? And third, be yourself. If you’re honest, it’ll show through.

Moore then related a story about a time he was hiring an executive assistant, and prior to the interview he looked over her resume and application. Both were “flawless,” except for one glaring omission. She skipped question no. 7 on the application, which asked whether the applicant had ever been convicted of a felony.

That raised Moore’s eyebrows a bit, and he asked the woman about it during the interview. She had in fact been in trouble with the law, and did not hesitate to tell him the whole story.

“I hired her on the spot,” Moore said.

“There’s an opportunity out there, guys. You’re the best in the world at being you. So get up every morning, and be the best you that you can be.”

Anthony Fulmore, an A&M University-Central Texas professor and program coordinator for the school’s College of Business, said that a majority of his teaching is done on the main campus in Killeen, but he enjoys the time he spends teaching courses in the prison system. The biggest difference between the two is “location,” and access to educational resources.

“That’s really about it,” Fulmore said. “On campus, they have access to a library 24/7, where here they are allowed to go to the library only at specific times.

“The last 11 years, I’ve been teaching for the Gatesville program, so I’ve seen them go from Central Texas College to Texas A&M … we build a bond through that process. I’ve seen them grow intellectually from course to course, and seen the light that goes on in their eyes. I’m very proud of them.”

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