Looking at life after lockup: Cleveland inmates graduate from GED, vocational courses

Graduates from GED and vocational courses at Cleveland Correctional Center couldn't hide their pride and joy over having completed their courses. Some of the inmates finished their General Equivalency Diplomas while others earned vocational certifications that will prepare them for life outside of prison. Cleveland Correctional Center is a pre-release facility that helps transition inmates from prison life to the free world.

A graduation ceremony for 34 inmates at Cleveland Correctional Center was held on Friday, Dec. 20. The pre-release prison is geared toward helping prisoners prepare for life after prison and hopefully reducing the recidivism rate.

On any given day in Texas, 163,000 people are incarcerated in state prisons like Cleveland Correctional Center, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Of those, most are lacking their basic high school education and even fewer are trained in a vocation. Education is key; without it their opportunities to earn money lawfully for their families are diminished.

The 34 inmates in Cleveland Correctional Center’s most recent graduating class were split into three groups – General Equivalency Diploma (GED), and painting and electrical certification. The vocational certifications are much sought after by employers, according to CCC Warden Michael Upshaw.

“We are here to celebrate your accomplishments,” Upshaw told the graduates.

The Cleveland Correctional Center’s Class of 2019 gathered with their instructors and administrators for a group photo on Friday, Dec. 20, after a graduation ceremony in the prison gym. The Cleveland facility is under the direction of Warden Michael Upshaw.

The guest speaker for the graduation ceremony was Cleveland businessman Ronnie Danner. A longtime resident of Cleveland, Danner previously served on city and school boards, and the Cleveland Livestock Show board. A former Farmers Insurance rep, he now is an independent insurance agent.

Danner shared a medical emergency he recently had while hospitalized for a heart-related issue. He says he was recuperating without any issue until one day his pulse rate skyrocketed to 209 beats per minute.

As the doctors worked to save him, Danner recalls looking down on his body from another part of the room.

“There is something out there after this life. I saw the light. I was never scared. I was up, looking down on my bed,” he said.

He described a heavenly being that appeared to be there to greet him. The being did not have a hair out of place and was calmly watching the scene unfold. Danner said he was prepared to go to whatever place lies ahead but doctors revived him, giving him more time with his loved ones on earth.

“That night, I got visits from hospital employees who wanted to see the ‘miracle patient,'” he said.

Danner encouraged the prisoners to realize that they, like him, are being given a second chance at life.

“Think about your future. Don’t dwell on the past,” he said. “I’ll leave you with a quote from Lion King that goes ‘Oh, yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.'”


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