Four inmates receive high school diplomas

CASSOPOLIS — Thanks to the assistance of teachers with Cassopolis Public Schools, a group of inmates in the Cass County Jail have used an otherwise dark chapter in their lives as a springboard to a brighter future.

On Thursday, four men — James Woods and John Means, of Dowagiac; Craig Souers, of Cassopolis; and David Haney, of South Bend — donned Ranger blue caps and gowns, and assembled one last time inside the jail’s instruction room. Greeting them were several educators with the Cassopolis school district, as well as senior members of Cass County law enforcement, including Sheriff Richard Behnke, Undersheriff Clint Roach and Jail Administrator Capt. Kevin Garrelts.

The occasion: the four inmates officially became high school graduates. Following some brief remarks by the guests, Cassopolis Schools Adult Education Director Jeff Wernette handed the graduates their diplomas — their keys to a better tomorrow.

The batch of graduates was the latest group to earn their high school diplomas under the tutelage of Helene Hoover, an adult educator with the Cassopolis district who has served as the “jail teacher” for years. Hoover has worked with the four men for months now, leading them through lessons on mathematics, language and other subjects to help them earn credits toward a high school diploma.

“I’m really proud of them — even though I had to yell at them a few times when they weren’t listening,” Hoover said during Thursday’s ceremony.

Behnke also congratulated the four, and added that they have taken advantage of an opportunity that is uncommon across jails in Michigan, as most correctional facilities only allow inmates to earn their GED diplomas while incarcerated.

“That high school diploma on a job application is a better than a GED,” Behnke said. “I congratulate you guys on working hard to make this happen, and complete this task.”

Means said he has worked around 12 hours a day over the past several months to earn his diploma, both in the classroom and in his cell block. The Dowagiac man said he was already looking to further his education before he ended up in jail.

“I want to continue to advance my education,” he said. “The things I’ve been doing in life I can correct by earning better employment.”

He is looking to use his newly earned degree to get into college, where he hopes to study either business management or to enter a culinary program, in hopes of one day opening his own restaurant, he said.

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