Officials, educators, family, and friends all gathered to honor the first graduating class of Phillips State Prison in Buford Thursday morning.
The Foothills Education Charter High School offered the classes that led to the graduation of the 25 students.
Tyler Howell of Gwinnett County earned his diploma and says, "I've always wanted to go to college and I never got to finish school. So, I felt like this is a perfect opportunity to finish school and fulfill my goal."
AccessWDUN also spoke with Shadeed Dunson from Detroit, Michigan. He also earned his diploma today and hopes that he can change the public opinion about people who are incarcerated. "Any and every chance I get to do anything, I want to do it," Dunson said. "Just to show people that just because you're in jail doesn't mean you're just an all negative person. People can make mistakes and still do better from it."
Each graduate wore a blue gown and cap with white sash and also received a class ring with their initials engraved inside to serve as a reminder of their hard work.
To date, that makes 184 students who have earned their high school diplomas while incarcerated in Georgia prisons through the program that was announced by Governor Nathan Deal back in 2014 as part of his criminial justice reform efforts. The fledgling program began in 2015 with the help of Mountain Education Charter High School, where there were 19 graduates.
The Foothills Charter School also offers classes to inmates at Lee Arendale State Prison near Alto and Burrus Correctional Training Center in the city of Forsyth.