Three earn diplomas in jailPublished 7:03pm Thursday, February 28, 2013
CASSOPOLIS — Three Cass County Jail inmates, Jeremy Heffington, Michael Johnson and DelShawn Wicker, graduated from Cassopolis High School Thursday morning.
Sheriff Joseph Underwood presented the men their diplomas, although Supt. Tracy Hertsel attended the pizza party.
Heffington, 31, originally from Florida, lived in Dowagiac a couple of months before falling afoul of the law.
“It’s graduation,” Wicker, 19, of Cassopolis, said, “and an opportunity for a second chance. I ruined my first chance. I’ve got a couple of months left.”
Johnson, 31, of Allegan, earned his GED 14 years ago.
“I figured I was selling myself short, so I made the best of my bad situation,” Johnson said. “When I get done, I want to go to Allegan Tech. I was traveling through, leaving the state of Michigan, until a little tussle in a bar. That’s why I’m here. I’m here for 270 days. I’ve got two months left.”
“I was a welder’s helper in Alaska,” Johnson said. “Either that or food and beverage. I’d like to get a certificate in that and become the manager of a restaurant. I’ve worked in quite a few as a waiter, so I’m well aware” of the long hours.
Heffington, who also had a GED, has about a month remaining on his six-month sentence in Cass, then some time to serve in Berrien County before “going back to college for psychology” in Florida.
“I know there are reasons for whatever happens in your lives,” Hertsel said, “and you’ve got to figure it out, straighten it out and get it right. This is a great stair-step for you into the world. Take advantage of it. I’m proud of you for sticking with it.”
Capt. Richard Affriseo, commander of the jail division, said, “We’ve had a working relationship with Cassopolis Public Schools for 23 years. We’re one of the few, if not the only, jails which has a diploma program. Not all jails have GED programs. We’re fortunate to have such a partnership to make this available to you. You put more work into going for a diploma, and it means more to you. You guys, by putting new tools in your tool belt, are trying to do positive things with your lives. Without this, we’d send you back out to the same problems.”
“I don’t want to see you here anymore,” the sheriff said. “This is an opportunity, and it’s up to you to take advantage of it. When you get out of here, you’re ready to move to the next step with the help of that diploma. It wasn’t easy to get to where you’re at. Don’t let a bump in the road hold you down. These people put in a lot of work to make you successful. Now it’s up to you, and when you come back, come through the front door.”
“I’m very proud to see three graduates sitting in front of me,” said Linda Vite, adult and alternative education director. “It takes a very special person like (teacher Helene Hoover) to do this job. She’s the perfect person for this job.”
“I’ve heard Helene called a lot by inmates,” Affriseo agreed, “but those are the inmates who don’t stay committed to their education. If you’re willing to put in the time, she’s very committed. She gives a lot of extra time she doesn’t get compensated for. I thank her for that.”