On Thanksgiving Day, most of you will be able to thank God for being together with a loving family in a warm house with a big-screen television to watch the game. Or others may be thankful for a plentiful meal and the blessings of a good career or children safe by your side.
The women living at the Tennessee Prison for Women will have none of that this Thanksgiving. They never do. Their families may be far way, and their living arrangements have few of the pleasures of home. Many of them can only look ahead to many more holidays spent in the prison until their terms have been served.
But for nine of the women who have been involved in the LIFE Program at the prison since 2007, this year they have something more to look forward to: receiving their college associate’s degrees in just two weeks, and then, using that degree to better their lives and their families, once they are released. Several even hope to use their degree to help other prisoners while they are still incarcerated, acting as teachers and mentors among their friends.
Fifteen women began the LIFE program by taking a judicial process course along with 15 traditional Lipscomb students in January 2007. Due to transfers and paroles, that number has shrunk to eight women still at TPFW who are this week finishing up their final class (in physics) to earn a 63-hour associate’s degree in the liberal arts. On Friday, Dec. 13, those eight women (and one woman who has been transferred to another state prison), will become Lipscomb graduates, receiving their degrees in a commencement ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional students who line up in Lipscomb’s Allen Arena each year.
They will wear graduation robes; they will formally proceed into the auditorium watched by friends, family and faculty; they will walk the stage to receive their degree; and when they are released and begin looking for a job, they can mark “college graduate.”
One of the greatest gifts we can be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day is our ability to imagine a better future. For so many of the women at TPFW, that ability has been stripped away. Yet this program, bringing quality higher education, with the bar set high, has allowed these graduates to realized what they can accomplish…today and once they are released, even 30 years from now. They have the ability to dream about the future again.
If you would like to learn more about the LIFE program, give me a call at 615.966.5748 or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.