Inmates complete adult education program

Published 12:30 am Monday, December 22, 2003

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- Only the caps and gowns were missing during this graduation. The smiles of pride were still evident. Five inmates of the Cass County Jail graduated Thursday, after completing class work through the adult education program of the Cassopolis Public Schools.
Some had completed their GED requirements years ago, but felt an actual diploma would be of more benefit, when they got out and went job hunting.
Russell Hill, 40, of Niles, said he "feels good" about graduation. Back in 1981, he said he was "only a credit or so short of graduating."
Teacher Helene Hoover especially praised James McDonald, 20, of Bangor. He received a certificate for an A in physical science, the first to do so.
Both Hoover and Rhonda Schadler, who is director of the Cassopolis Adult Education program, hoped McDonald could eventually receive a scholarship to continue his education at either Lake Michigan College or Southwestern Michigan College.
Susan Lockhart, 37, of Marcellus, said she quit in her junior year at Dowagiac Union High School. She too had gotten her GED, but this was "something i always wanted."
She asked to be in the program as soon as she arrived at the jail and worked hard to finish. Her class was the first in the morning, but she came each day. math was her favorite.
A letter from Hoover actually helped Judge Michael E. Dodge Friday decide to keep Lockhart in the local jail, with a one year sentence, rather than sending her to prison. She made some wrong choices, but is now looking toward a better path.
Marty Gipson of Niles, who just turned 32, they called "super star." He had gotten his GED in 1989. "My grandpa said, 'do it right,' " Gipson said.
Back when he was in school, Gipson wouldn't answer if he wasn't sure he had the correct answer. Math was the hardest for him. So when he "played dumb," they would put him back in remedial classes and he would get an A.
Capt. Richard Affrisco told them they "should be proud. It doesn't matter where you get it," only that they did graduate. He said job opportunities will come now that they "took the time and effort."
Those who attend the classes while incarcerated, he added, are "being positive" and don;t give the staff any problems.
He shared his own personal experiences, once when he caught himself before he "could have killed a man." He left home at 18 and "if you looked at me a fight was on." But the military life helped.
With relatives in prison, his own cancer and then his wife being killed the same week as his diagnosis, Affrisco could easily have gone a different direction, than running the county jail.
He credits religion and education as his salvation. "The lord directed me," he said. "If I had a victim mentality, I would be in here.