From inmates to graduates

POSTED: 06/28/16 7:34 PM

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Kerry J. Wilson proudly displays the trophies he has won for his singing ability. Photo Today / Milton Pieters

St. Maarten News – According to a ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi, “a journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet,” but for the 36 inmates at the Point Blanche Prison, their first steps in the right direction materialized after they were presented with certificates at the annual General Education Development (GED) graduation ceremony yesterday.

The transition from inmate to graduate was certainly a sign of the willingness of those involved in the program to elevate themselves academically, a move that was designed to prepare them for the reintegration into society after the conclusion of their sentences.

The GED program began in 2009 and was designed to give those who were incarcerated another chance to adopt a more positive lifestyle under the guidance of an experienced group.

After an intense period, the graduates are now more proficient in subjects like English, Dutch, mathematics, computer science, Microsoft word, music and mechanical skills.

That external instructors included Elfreda Lake, Edward Hollis, Oswald Francis, Joan Sharplis, Vernon Illidge, Sheena Romney; internal instructors are Leo de Windt, Les Brown and David Harris along with the invaluable assistance from the mentors H.A. Concincion, S. Williams and S. Janga.

“I have a long history in education and as I walked in here, I heard my name being called and that alone gives me a pleasure for being here. I believe that everyone can learn and it does not matter which environment you are in. For every environment you are in, you must make the best of it,” said Yvette Halley, Head of the Division of exams speaking on behalf of Education-Minister Silveria Jacobs who was unable to attend.

“To have 36 inmates graduating is history on St Maarten despite the fact that you are graduating in different areas. The GED is an important exam because it gives you a high school diploma and I am more happy to hear that,” Halley said. “I believe that everyone was born with a gift, but we don’t need every body to be doctors and lawyers, we also need skilled people that can get the job done, more technical people in our community.”

“This is very important for the reintegration into society and it’s good that while in prison, you all had the opportunity to accomplish what you embarked on. It is important that when you are coming back into society that you have a skill that will help you to make a living for yourself,” Halley stated.

Wilfred Manning, a member of the Supervisory Board of the prison started out by imploring the importance of understanding the good principles while being incarcerated. “Passing the GED is a stepping stone to go further, it prepares you for the world and that means that you should all continue to do what you are doing by following the courses. For those that love sports, its an event that can enable you to earn millions of dollars.

“For the more technical persons, you have an opportunity to become builders and architects, masons and laborers. If there were no technical people like you then the lawyers and doctors would have to carry out their practice under trees,” Manning pointed out.

He said that it was a milestone for the graduates and urged them not to stop now. “What is very important is that you must forget the things that are behind you and the reasons that brought you here, just reach forward. Studying calls for discipline and endurance and you are all now reaping the rewards.”

Natasha Carty, Department Head at the Miss Lalie Center also had some encouraging words to say. “We appreciate your ability to perservere, the decisions that you have made in order to accomplish these goals takes a lot. I want to encourage you to keep learning, this is just one step, you have to keep educating yourself and making the best of what life has to offer you in technology; remember that knowledge is power,” Carty said.

Before handing over the certificates, the instructors took the opportunity to speak briefly about the receipients and highlighted their individual academic, technical and sporting and musical potentials.

One very vocal inmate who stood out was Kerry J. Wilson, a former student from the Milton Peters College and ironically someone that Halley, a former principal of the MPC was very familiar with. Wilson’s desire to become a changed and ambitious entertainer reached new heights when he said that his desire is to become the first St Maartener to win a Grammy Award.

That shows that being in confinement does not restrict one from striving for excellence academically, technically or in the field of entertainment. With mentors in place and available instructors, there is still a future after a long or a short sentence.

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