Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 1, 2014

Leaving jail with a GED

Tim Preston
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — With obstacles ranging from math skills to money issues, some inmates at the Boyd County Detention Center said they never imagined they could ever get a GED.

“It was hard to take the time out of our busy schedules and stuff,” one man in orange jail clothes joked as nearly a dozen inmates gathered in the all-purpose room at the detention center for a ceremony honoring their achievements Friday afternoon.

Bryan Lee Coleman of Pikeville said he went to work as a coal miner at an early age and never had a need for a high school diploma or GED.

“I only needed my surface-mine card,” he said, later explaining he was in the local jail because of “bad choices on drugs.”

As she entered the room, Coleman’s mother, Barbara, made eye contact with her son and proclaimed it was the first and only time she would ever see the inside of a jail. At the end of the ceremony, Coleman couldn’t hold back the tears when his mother gave him a tear-filled hug and proclaimed she was extremely proud of him for taking advantage of the opportunity to improve his life while incarcerated.

Sitting in two rows, the GED-earning inmates said the accomplishment definitely encourages them to pursue even higher education, with career goals ranging from welding to flight school and mechanics to medicine and social service work. Davon Lee-Edward Paige, 20, said the idea of obtaining a GED while on the streets of Detroit was a far-fetched idea, and he now looks at his time in jail as an unusual sort of blessing. Each of the men credited fellow prisoner Josh Gundy of Huntington, who was tagged with the nickname “Ted” (reflecting the similarity of his last name to that of a famous serial killer), with helping them make the grade.

“Ted tutored us all,” one said, causing the rest to nod in affirmation.

Detention Center staff member Tony Daniels smiled as he added his personal regards to James Robert Pumphrey, who he said initially resisted the idea of pursuing his GED.

“He didn’t think he could do it,” Daniels said. “I think he surprised himself.”

Kevin Andrew Wilson offered his appreciation to detention center staff who encouraged him as he worked to get his GED.

“Growing up, I never had support like that,” he said, explaining his mom and dad had dropped out of school as well as his siblings, and he quit after struggling during his eighth grade year.

Adult Education Instructor Sherry Combs received a round of applause as she entered the room, causing her to blush and turn the compliment back to the captive audience.

“All I did was give them the tools to work with,” she said, adding a note of personal admiration for the mens’ perseverance and dedication. She later advised them she had found a statistic indicating 40 percent of high school graduates would be unable to pass the exam they had to take to get their GED certificates.

Before calling each man forward and presenting his GED, Jailer Joe Burchett encouraged the men to build upon the foundations they have started building.

“I’ve been watching you. When you came in here, you were in bad shape. Now, you’ve got clear eyes. You’ve overcome the odds,” Burchett said, later asking them to rejoin their own families and stay away from jail.

“Don’t come back to this place. Life is too short to be miserable in this jail.”

Those who graduated Friday inclue Brandon Bostic, Alec Burress, Bryan Coleman, Michael Crisp, Joshua Gundy, Terrance Mosley, Davon Paige, Weston Porter, James Pumphrey, Anthony Williams and Kevin Wilson.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.