Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2019

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Local inmates draw inspiration from achieving an education milestone

Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center Graduation

Miranda Alam / Special to the Sun

Inmates participate in a graduation ceremony at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas on Monday, May 20, 2019.

Inmate Graduation Ceremony

Inmates participate in a graduation ceremony at the Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in North Las Vegas on Monday, May 20, 2019. Miranda Alam/Special to the Launch slideshow »

Tarneshia Harris was in tears when she took the podium Monday during a graduation ceremony at Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas.

“This was not an easy journey for me,” she told the crowd. “From elementary school into high school I had to be in special education classes … I felt I couldn’t do the work and I couldn’t retain the information.”

When her mother got sick, she felt determined to push herself harder.

Donned in red caps and gowns over their blue prison uniforms, Harris and 19 other inmates collected their high school diplomas. Others were honored with high school equivalency diplomas and vocational certificates.

More than 500 inmates across the state are being honored with one of these milestones, Nevada Department of Corrections officials said.

Harris’ mother wasn’t there to watch her walk across the stage. She died earlier this spring.

“I know she is looking down with the biggest, proudest smile,” she said during her speech.

Associate Warden Ronald Oliver said education programs like these are important because it gives inmates a better chance of getting a decent-paying job after they’re released. It also gives them a sense of value in themselves.

“A lot of inmates in any prison system pretty much are taught to devalue themselves,” he said. “At least if they complete this on their own, it gives them a sense of value and completion of something in their lives.”

Clark County School District English teacher Susan Alden has been teaching inmates the past decade at the correctional center, which houses inmates of all custody levels.

“This really is exciting for us and reminds us why we do the job,” she said.

Associate Warden Gabriela Garcia lauded inmates during the ceremony for finishing something they started.

“How many other inmates that started with you quit?” she said. “If you don’t believe in yourself, you having nothing.”

Alexandria Montgomery said during her speech that she never thought this day would come. She said when she first started school, she didn’t take it seriously.

“I was always talking and never did my work,” she said. “I guess you could say I was one of the troublemakers. Honestly, I was only there because I had to be.”

But something changed over the summer.

“It was like the switch being flipped,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I was given a second chance to educate myself so that when I’m released, I will be able to provide a better life for my children.”

Julia Verdin said she and her fellow classmates pushed themselves harder than they ever thought possible.

“Many of us came in broken, with no vision for the future, and no self-worth,” she said. “Just like every other high school student, we came in every day, did the work and faced challenges.”

Verdin said people on the outside see them as just statistics. Today, she said they proved they are something more.

“Today we prove we are achievers with desire and unlimited potential to grow,” she said.