Barton Community College, Ellsworth Correctional Facility and the Kansas Department of Corrections highlighted the success of about 140 inmates who have taken the initiative to pursue their educations while incarcerated at the 13th Annual Learning Celebration, held earlier this month at Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
Momodou Jallow was one of the 23 inmates who received his GED diploma that evening. He moved to the United States from Gambia with his family after the fifth grade and said achieving his General Educational Development diploma was a dream come true.
“I was exhilarated, honored and humbled to receive my GED,” he said. “This has been my goal in life and is why I came to this country. I put in a lot of effort to achieve my goal and to become educated.”
Like many traditional students, often family members help pay for the inmate’s tuition, but there are several privately funded scholarships which donors gave explicitly for inmate education at ECF or Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility. Many inmates, including Jallow, can take courses thanks to these privately funded scholarships.
“I appreciated the opportunity that Barton has provided,” Jallow said. “It helps give us opportunities, and we are very grateful for what they do and especially the scholarships. Without the scholarships, most of us would not be able to take classes here.”
Barton Foundation Director Coleen Cape distributed certificates to 13 scholarship recipients at this year’s celebration on Nov. 2.
One inmate gave a Learning Celebration Address to his fellow inmates.
“All of you have chosen for whatever reason to grow and to use a bad situation to not only better yourself now, but also for the future. I see a group of men who have not allowed their current situation of incarceration to hold them down,” he said. “Success is an option, and everyone here has chosen to succeed. I commend each one of you for pursuing your dreams and success.”
ECF Warden Martin Sauers also commented on the importance of success but also noting their journey has only begun.
“Of all the events we have at ECF, this has always been my favorite event of the year. It truly is a night to celebrate and recognize hard work and to prepare for success,” Sauers said. “We are all hoping that this is just the beginning of success for you.”
Jallow knows he has only just begun, and continues working toward his future outside of the facility.
“Like many of the speakers were saying, the work is just beginning. We can grow more; change doesn’t happen instantly. It’s a process,” he said. “We have a good foundation right now to build on. Hopefully, all of us will take this and run with it to make better judgments in the future.”
Upon his release in 2022, Jallow hopes to eventually establish his own business in engineering or computer design or possibly another field involving his love for mathematics.
“I know it’s easier said than done but I want to be able to contribute to society and not just take handouts,” Jallow said. “If you didn’t do anything while you were in jail to prepare yourself, society is a tough place to go back to. With this right here (holding his GED), it helps prepare us to be able to contribute and be good role models.”
While Jallow has earned his GED diploma, he is not putting his educational pursuit to rest. He continues in stride toward an associate degree already having acquired around 10 credit hours. He expressed his gratitude for the opportunity Barton has provided and to those who helped him along the way.
“We have been afforded the chance to do something with our lives, and I am glad to be a part of this program,” he said. “My family has been helpful. The staff is helpful. The teachers are helpful. It has just been a blessing.”
Vice President of Instruction Elaine Simmons, who helped start the program said these opportunities for inmate success benefit our communities as well.
“Folks need to understand that a high percentage of offenders will be released into our communities,” Simmons said. “How much better could it be, to have them prepared in skills with talent and knowledge so that we can be hopeful that when they are released, they become employed, care for their families and that they don’t victimize the community again?”
Simmons also invited those interested in the event to next year’s celebration.
“It is a great event, and I would welcome anyone who would want to come and join us next year,” she said.