Smart Horizons Career Online Education (SHCOE) held historic graduation ceremonies on November 2, 2012 for 21 inmates in the Florida Department of Corrections Madison Correctional Institution.

SHCOE was selected as the official provider of online education for inmates in Florida prison facilities in February 2012. Pilot programs went live at the Madison facility in April and at Ocala’s Lowell Annex Correctional Institution in May. The 21 Madison graduates are the inaugural graduating class for these pilot programs, which are the first online secondary education programs at any correctional facility in the United States.

Attending this historic occasion were Ms. Tahnee Casanova, Bureau Chief of Re-Entry Programs and Education for the Florida Department of Corrections; Dr. Howard Liebman, CEO and Superintendent for SHCOE; Mr. Chip Case and Mr. Brewser Brown, Chief Lobbyists for SHCOE; and members of the graduates’ families.

A speech delivered by one of the graduating inmates was the highlight of the ceremony. It provided vivid testimony to the difference that SHCOE is making in people’s lives. The text of the speech appears below:

First off, I would like to start by thanking Ms. [Katie] Roach [Academic Classroom Facilitator] for her motivation and encouragement through all the tough times in class. Multiple times, I was ready to give up on obtaining my high school diploma, but as soon as I stated my feelings, Ms. Roach would ask me, “Why would you give up now? You’ve come so far. You are almost done.” She was right. Every time she said that, I would re-think the situation. With her inspiration and support, I was able to graduate with my high school diploma today.

So, thank you to the people who pushed me to do the right thing and get my education. It took me to come to prison to get it, but this may save my life in more ways than one.

As for Smart Horizons Career Online Education, I want you all to know it is a wonderful program.

I will be the first to admit that I never saw myself graduating with my high school diploma. I dropped out of high school in 9th gradeā€¦.As I grew older, I realized that all the good jobs required at least a high school diploma or GED. I found myself working numerous construction jobs while I was trying to figure out what I could do with my life. Let me say, those construction jobs became very old, very quickly. It was hard work, for very little money. But, it was money, and I needed to take care of my family.

Fast forward to today. I am still incarcerated, but inside, I feel like a new person. I sit in my bunk and think of the ways I can go home and earn good money with my high school diploma in hand. My mother and brother used to tell me that I needed to get my high school diploma or GED.

Well, I’ve got it now, guys! When I get out of prison, I will put it to good use and hope that I will never return here again.