Inmates hope GEDs give them a second chance
Andrew Mills dropped out of school at age 16, lured by the prospect of a good-paying job in construction. He always hoped to get his diploma someday, but never seemed to find the time.
Now, awaiting trial on a second-degree burglary charge, the 20-year-old James Island man has nothing but time on his hands at the Charleston County jail. So he hunkered down, hit the books and earned his high school equivalency diploma through a joint program run by the jail and the Trident Literacy Association.
Mills was one of two inmates to receive their GEDs Thursday in a small ceremony at the Cannon Detention Center. Three others were presented with certificates from the WorkKeys program, which measures real-world skills and shows that a job-seeker is ready to work.
Seventeen others also earned these certificates but already had left the jail.
Some 60 inmates have successfully completed the programs at the jail over the past five years, sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady said.
This round was special, however, because Mills and fellow inmate Kenneth Dyer notched superior scores on their GED tests, placing them in the top 5 percent of students statewide taking the exam, Trident Executive Director Eileen Chepenik said.
“I hope this will help me get into the Air Force when I get out, if they’ll take me,” Mills said.
Dyer, who is facing a murder charge in connection with a June 2011 choking death in Mount Pleasant, said he hopes the GED will help him land gainful employment if he beats the charge. He has a daughter who will soon be 4, he said.
Dyer said he dropped out of school because his family’s frequent moves made it difficult for him to adjust and complete his education. He had cycled through 17 schools by the time he left for good in the 11th grade, he said.
Dyer, who has been locked up for 15 months, said he welcomed the opportunity to better himself behind bars.
“I studied a lot,” he said. “There is not a whole lot else to do here but sit around. It’s better to be doing something with your mind rather than sitting around vegetating all day.”
There is a link between a person’s education and the likelihood of winding up in jail. A snapshot of South Carolina’s more than 22,161 prison inmates from June shows that 56 percent did not have a high school diploma or GED, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Trident and jail officials had no firm count on how many inmates who complete the programs avoid a return to incarceration. Anecdotally, jail officials said they have seen fewer of these folks return to the detention center.
“The programs give them an opportunity they didn’t have before,” Brady said.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.