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'To help and change lives:' Arkansas inmates graduating with honors from Shorter College

As part of two programs at Shorter College, more than $27,000 worth of scholarships were passed out to 27 inmates that were graduating with honors.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark — In honor of May 4th, Shorter College students celebrated with a 'May the Force be with you' theme for their academic honors ceremony.  

The students that were being celebrated on Wednesday weren't your ordinary students though. 

The Anchor Re-Entry Program and the Second Chance Pell Program at Shorter focuses on both former and current Arkansas inmates, helping them with certifications on campus or next step college entry. 

More than $27,000 worth of scholarships were passed out to 27 individuals with honors.

"We were actually able to help and change lives and actually give them hope," said Shorter College's Director of Support Services, Rick Watson. 

Taking a look at both programs, and each aim to help people in different ways.

The Second Chance Pell Program offers courses that lead to an Associates of Arts along with entrepreneurial studies in Wrightsville, Fayetteville, Osceola, Texarkana, Little Rock, West Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Malvern. 

The Anchor Re-Entry Program partners with the Arkansas State Department of Community Corrections to recruit individuals currently participating in parole or probationary programs, offering them higher education. 

"What makes today special is Shorter College has been the recipient of a gift from an anonymous donor in the amount of $200,000," said Shorter College President, Jerome Greene.

He said the purpose of this gift is to provide scholarships and other support to people from the re-entry community, along with helping those in the Second Chance Pell Program who are trying to go to college. 

Those efforts where seen Wednesday during the Star Wars themed ceremony that featured storm troopers ushering the event. 

The ceremony also included Han Solo's: never tell me the odds, honoring students that are overcoming adversity. 

"When I went to prison this last time in 2018 for delivery, I really got serious, I wanted something different," said Jamie Gregrich, a student who suffered from drug addiction.

She said she constantly used the excuse of having no family and a lack of support to justify her past decisions. She later began self-reflecting, and it was people like Watson who opened her eyes to the opportunities around her.

Gregrich's feelings were echoed by her fellow students too.

"I think the biggest issue that people like us have after everything's said and done because we're so torn up from the drug life, the backstabbing, the insecurities, the homelessness, whatever it is-- is to trust people when we get out," said Martin DeHaven, another student. 

DeHaven said two years ago he was sitting in a federal prison cell on 24-hour lockdown because of COVID. He had always had a vision for his life, but never imagined he'd be able to go to college until he met Watson. 

Those same feelings were shared by Roman Manley, who is currently incarcerated and cried while addressing a room full of people who supported him. 

"I've been down ten times. The past two times I've been afforded the opportunity to make a change. Change is not easy," said Manley.

   

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