A sense of personal purpose

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Earning a GED is never easy. Earning one in jail can be even harder.

Many of us probably wish jails were places where people who’ve taken the wrong path in life might change their outlook and put themselves, as it were, on the straight and narrow. But the reality is that jails are full of people who have taken a bad turn and are not just determined to continue along the wrong road, but pleased to take anyone they can entice along for the ride to destruction.

If there weren’t such people, after all, there really would be no need for jails.

Given that sort of environment, people who genuinely want to change their lives and pursue self-improvement face steep challenges in jail. In the midst of a culture that often encourages low expectations and recidivism, it is a seemingly rare prisoner who truly wants to leave behind the influences that drew him or her to crime in the first place.

Seventeen such rare birds received their GED or high school diploma at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail on Friday, completing a regimen of courses designed to help them avoid making the same bad choices that landed them in jail in the first place. The graduates ranged in age from 18 to 42, proving that none of us is too old to make a fresh start.

They made the commitment to do the work needed to earn their certificates despite an environment that might otherwise have convinced them the effort was pointless. As Kirk Jones told a reporter, “At first I was like, ‘Who’s going to care? We’re convicts.’”

But Jones came to an important conclusion that, perhaps better than anything else, shows how important the jail’s GED program is. “Then I was like, ‘I care,’” he said. In other words, he did the work because he wanted to feel better about himself.

That kind of attitude will serve Jones well when he is released from jail. And it also bodes well for the society to which he will return. It stands to reason that people who derive personal satisfaction from bettering themselves are far less likely to do things that will put them back in jail.