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Old 12-14-2003, 08:22 PM
irisheyes66 irisheyes66 is offline
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Default Lansing Inmates Earn College Degrees

(Reprinted from TheKansasCityChannel.com)

Group Of Kansas Inmates Graduate From College

Professor: 'They're Such Eager Learners'


LANSING, Kan. -- For the first time in more than a decade, a group of Kansas prison inmates graduated from college.

Beneath the silver caps and gowns, eight men at Lansing Correctional Facility wore the same blue shirts and blue jeans they wear every day. Even the prison's warden wore formal graduation attire Friday as he congratulated each of the men for graduating with associate degrees in arts from Donnelly College.

As the graduates walked down the aisle inside the prison's medium-security unit, their parents pointed and smiled. Family members whooped and hollered as each graduate's name was read aloud.

"I was astonished," said Earle Bess Jr. of Salina, father of inmate Michael Bess. "I thought I'd never see this day."

Onstage, Donnelly College President Ken Gibson hugged each graduate after the traditional handshake.

Besides Bess, the other graduates were Robert P. Clark, Viet Quoc Doan, Dana Lundy, Roger Moss, Brett Nave, Reginald Pennington and Anthony D. Stallings.

Professors smiled broadly when officials announced that the class's average grade point was nearly 3.75.

The program that allows inmates to take college classes and earn a degree began three years ago after local businesses inquired about reviving a program that had been in place years earlier.

Since the program began, at least 120 inmates have signed up for courses.

The program was designed to be expense-free to taxpayers.

Tuition is divided into thirds, with the inmates, private businesses and the college picking up equal parts. Private donors help pay the college's share.

The prison provides classroom space, and inmates of any category -- minimum, medium or maximum security -- are eligible to participate as long as they have a record of good behavior.

Corrections officers are not present during classes because professors haven't needed them, Gibson said.

"They're such eager learners," said Bernard Franklin, a former professor. "They're like sponges. They don't want to waste their time."

Onlookers at the ceremony grew quiet when Michael Bess took the stage and started his speech as the graduation speaker.

"Today is one of the greatest days of my life," said Bess, 41.

"My self-esteem has soared, and I truly believe I can accomplish any goal. Furthermore, education has drawn me closer to my family and friends. My children look up to me."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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