COR school offers normalized graduations

While in-person graduations have been hindered the last few years, this year the California State Prison, Corcoran (COR), Visions Adult School celebrated graduates with families and visitors.

Under the leadership of the graduation committee, celebrations included speeches, music, photos, caps and gowns, as well as cake and beverages.

Multiple graduations held at COR

Graduations included students earning their GED and college degrees as well as honoring those who completed the Peer Literacy Mentor Program and Career Technical Education.

Acting Warden Tammy Campbell and Chief Deputy Warden Ed Silva were among the special guests attending the graduations. Staff participation, such as teacher K. Szovati singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” was another show of support for the incarcerated.

Daily life within a Level 4 Facility can be challenging so these celebrations recognize the accomplishments of the incarcerated population, furthering their rehabilitation.

D. Potts, one of the graduates, said these graduations were different.

“In my 16 years of incarceration, I have never experienced something so humanizing. The participants were motivated and hungry to accomplish more in hopes of being included in the next one,” Potts said.

Graduate B. Spivey thanked Ms. Sawinko, Mr. Oliveira, and his parents for their support.

Speaking of his past behaviors, he said, “I chose to place the pen of my life stories in the palm of other people’s hands. Complacency and deception were my narrative. Fear of failure was my truth but I’ve learned failure is not the end. Failing is the rising action in each of our stories and taught me to take the pen back and rewrite the pages in my own words.”

First time for student earning four degrees at COR

Someone earning four associate of art degrees had never happened before in COR’s history, until graduate Madrid proved it was possible.

To mark his extraordinary achievement, staff from Bakersfield College attended the graduation along with Angelica Perez, program director of Rising Scholar.

“I remember a time when I felt like giving up, but my teacher Mrs. Green always found a way to make me smile and persevere through the difficult times in my life in prison,” said Madrid. “I would have never been able to prove to my teenage kids that I’m not wasting my time while serving my time.”

E. Estrada, another college graduate, said his first college professor offered attitude-changing advice.

“Mr. Dupree told the class, ‘you may be in prison, but when you walk into the class, you are now on a Bakersfield College Campus. There are no free rides here and I expect as much out of you as I would from any other students,’” Estrada recalls. “Where I use to destroy my community, I can now bring healing. Where I tore things down, I can now build them up. Instead of being viewed as a nuisance, I can now become an asset in society.”

GED, CTE, high school, peer literacy and college degrees

The graduations took place in the COR visiting area and included:

  • 39 GED graduates
  • 61 CTE graduates
  • 19 high school diplomas
  • 6 Peer Literacy Mentor Program graduates
  • 10 college graduates.

There were many family members and friends who drove hundreds of miles to celebrate these milestones with the graduates.

“An education is not a piece of paper telling potential employers we will make good employees, it changes us,” said college graduate S. Dyleski. “Education is to the mind what physical exercise is to the body. That makes the classroom the gym of the mind. Just as exercise grants our bodies strength, endurance, and flexibility, so education grants our minds those same virtues.”

Other comments from graduates:

  • “Mrs. Green, thank you for every time going above and beyond. You are truly one of a kind,” said Guzman.
  • “You know better, you do better. You can’t think the same way and continue to expect a different result,” said K. Thomas.
  • “The decisions we make today influence our future and things we learn today help be of service to our community in the future,” said D. Garza
  • “Thanks to Visions Adult School for enhancing public safety and promoting success as graduates reintegrate back into the community,” said O. Williams.

By Heidi Wippel, Correctional Educator

Read more rehabilitation stories.

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