Inmates at Polk Correctional Facility receive degrees and certifications
When Teshea Hamilton is released from Polk Correctional Facility later this year, he will not walk away empty-handed.
Hamilton, 39, was among 42 inmates housed at the facility to participate in a program that offered the chance to earn high school diplomas, heavy equipment operations and vocational certifications from Polk State College.
“Trucking is logistics and it was one of the areas I learned at Polk State College,” said Hamilton, who graduated from the program on May 13. “So, I’m going to take logistics further and start my own business as a logistics and transportation company.”
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Stephen Tkalec, an instructor at Polk State College, says he shows up to teach in an effort to prevent at least one inmate from returning to the prison system.
“I’ve come to this point in life and finally found what I love to do because these guys really don’t have much,” Tkalec said. “It’s a crazy old saying, but if you keep one of these guys from coming back, it’s definitely worth it.”
Acting Warden Leslee Pippin commended the inmates for their commitment to improving their lives, those of their families and their communities.
“I want to congratulate you. You probably took what was one of the worst situations of your life, coming to prison, and making something positive out of it,” she said. “And for that, you should be commended.”
Ray Childs, Education Supervisor at Polk Correctional Facility, has worked in the Department of Corrections since 2007 and has held a variety of positions. He says graduation is a nice day to see “the culmination of understanding how each department played a vital role in seeing it come together.”
In explaining the program’s success, Childs said the facility’s classification department had to make sure they had the right inmates who fit the profile to be placed in the right programs. He added that the education department ensured that the actual instruction took place and that security ensured that inmates were present and accounted for.
“It’s the result of everyone working together,” he said.
Alaster Camacho, 24, graduated from the GED program. He tearfully thanked his family for their support and spoke to the other graduates.
“I realized that no matter what people say, what the courts may say, or what the state may think, no one controls my future except me,” Camacho said. “Let your past influence you to be better, don’t let your past control you. Be better and let it go. Learn from yesterday and don’t live in it.
Florida Hires and iBuild Central Florida saw 17 graduates receive their heavy equipment operator certification. The program requires 350 hours and includes OSSHA 10, First Aid and CPR certifications. Graduates are also listed on the National Center for Construction Education and Research website so that future employers can verify their employability.
“Our industry desperately needs all of you,” iBuild founder Debbie Rodriguez told the graduates. “We have several apprenticeship programs that we can put you through to continue fostering that education to better yourself in our industry.”
Rodgriguez said the successes of alumni getting jobs helps the program grow.
“If you weren’t doing such an amazing job getting out of here (jail) and being able to pursue a career in the industry, we wouldn’t be continuing to do what we do,” she said. .
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Jonathan Beasley, 43, is a repeat offender and believes programs like iBuild will help reduce the rate of recidivism by giving people the tools and confidence to find a job.
“When I was young, they didn’t teach short timers — they taught long timers,” Beasley said. “But now that they’re starting to educate everybody, especially people going home, it can be something where you just got your education and you just get out there and you can use it right away.”
Childs is proud of the changes the ministry has made in its efforts to reduce recidivism.
“Since I started, the focus has always been on recidivism, but I see more investment in that area,” he said. “So it’s not enough for an inmate to enroll in a program or complete a program, but for the completion to actually connect to some form of employment.
Whatever someone’s situation, Hamilton hopes her story will inspire others to achieve their goals.
“No matter what environment you’re in, no matter how much negativity surrounds you, no matter what people think of you or what stigma they put on you, you don’t have to live with that,” he said. he declared. “You make your own choices and chart your own course.
Breanna A. Rittman writes stories for The Ledger. Send your feature ideas to [email protected]