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September 20, 2014

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Walk of redemption: Women inmates overcome troubled past to graduate high school

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Paul Takahashi

The Clark County School District recognized more than 70 inmates at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center who graduated from the district’s adult education program with high school diplomas, GEDs and vocational certificates on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.

Graduating behind bars

The Clark County School District recognized more than 70 inmates at the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center who graduated from the district's adult education program with high school diplomas, GEDs and vocational certificates on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Launch slideshow »

They trudged up the stairs and stood on the top step, their white sneakers and blue jumpsuits peeking out from beneath their maroon gowns.

One by one, their names were called. Audience members — parents, children, friends and teachers — cried and cheered them on inside the gymnasium.

As they crossed the stage and received their diplomas, the women walked past their troubled pasts and all the missteps that landed them here, in prison.

Broken homes. Drug addiction. Gang violence. Poverty. The challenges that made high school graduation impossible the first time around and led them down the wrong path.

On Tuesday however, 75 inmates at Nevada’s only female prison — Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas — defied the odds in an effort to change their life’s course.

They decided to make the most of their time behind bars and razor wire fences, away from their children and families. They got an education.

“I’m just so proud of them,” School Board member Patrice Tew said. “Education has the power to transform their lives and help them become the person they want to become. It can open doors and give them opportunities they never even dreamed of.”

For Brian Connett, partnering with the Clark County School District to educate and rehabilitate inmates was a no-brainer.

The deputy director of Nevada’s corrections department points to the research: Finishing high school or completing a vocational program helps inmates find work after prison, reducing the recidivism rate.

“The more education that an individual gets, the less likely they are going to come back to prison,” Connett said.

In addition to the women’s prison, the School District operates prison schools inside High Desert State Prison and Southern Desert Correctional Center. More than 200 high school diplomas, vocational and GED certificates will be awarded to inmates at the three prison schools in Southern Nevada this year.

Valedictorian Simone Taylor hopes to avoid a high school reunion at McClure. In her speech, the 25 year old former dropout told her fellow inmates that going back to school was the best decision she ever made. She encouraged them to continue their education.

“Knowledge is power,” Taylor said. “I didn’t understand it then. This time, I do.”

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