‘Pressing the reset button’ – 17 inmates turn tassels at Tabor Correctional Institution

It was a momentous day for 17 graduates at Tabor Correctional Institution as they turned their tassel and received their high school equivalency diplomas through Southeastern Community College’s Transitional Studies program on Feb. 26.  

“This was a great day in the making, and it has been several years since we have been able to be part of a ceremony due to the pandemic,” said Travis Paul, SCC’s director of law enforcement training and prison education. “Warden Jamie Bullard, Associate Warden Alfred Williams and the programs staff at TCI did a great job providing the offenders with a day they will never forget.” 

Paul explained that some of the graduates were assigned to school as their daily assignment, while some have job assignments during the day and attend part-time classes at night. Paul is the direct supervisor of the prison education instructors: Raymond Long, Vernon Vaughn, Sherry Blackwell and Samuel Enzor. Blackwell told the inmates that their achievement was like “pressing the reset button” after they processed into the graduation ceremony at the prison. 

“I have some really passionate instructors in this area who go above and beyond to assist these students along the way,” Paul said. “They understand the interest of their efforts as it relates to helping the guys return to their respective communities with a credential that will assist them forever.”  

After hearing the commencement speech from SCC Executive Vice President Dr. Sylvia Cox, the valedictorian addressed his classmates before receiving their diplomas.   

“This is our moment. We earned this moment. There’s not going to be another moment like this for us,” he said. “This diploma is not just a symbol of educational achievement. It’s also a symbol of our ability to change as individuals.” 

He told his graduating class that the diploma was “proof that we are more than the crime for which we are incarcerated.”  

“We leave here today as pioneers breaking the social perception of the incarcerated community,” he concluded. “We are not the stereotypes; we are not the statistics nor the crimes for which people see us. We are human beings capable of immense, profound changes if only given the opportunity. It’s up to us to take advantage of it.” 

While 16 of the graduates received their high school equivalency diploma, one of the graduates, at 69 years old, was a senior high school equivalency recipient. He was recognized at the end of the ceremony and stood up to thank everyone for their support and to remind everyone that it was “never too late to get an education.” 

“SCC’s Transitional Studies Program consists of classes that are designed to build skills in foundational reading, mathematics, and writing to prepare the student to enter the High School Equivalency program,” said Veronica Powell, transitional studies coordinator.  

Larry Everette, SCC’s chief examiner/recruiter for transitional studies, said the graduates came from diverse backgrounds. He explained that graduates with longer sentences have pledged to support fellow inmates in obtaining their diplomas while showcasing a commitment to personal growth and community service.  

“As their HiSET Examiner, I’ve had the opportunity to understand their stories, emphasizing the importance of learning from past mistakes to shape better futures,” Everette said. “The graduation ceremony marked a significant achievement for the inmates, signaling the potential to apply their education and life skills beyond prison walls upon release.”