Graduates in state women's prison to be inspired by Lipscomb president

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More than 90 inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW) who have worked hard hitting the books over the past year will be honored Wednesday, Dec. 3, with a commencement ceremony featuring guest speaker Lipscomb University President L. Randolph Lowry.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Lowry join us for this important ceremony,” said TPFW Principal Connie Seabrooks. “This is the first time that the president of a major university has participated in a graduation ceremony at a Tennessee prison. It means a lot to the inmates that Dr. Lowry and Lipscomb University have shown such interest in their desire to improve their lives, those of their families and communities.”  

The honored graduates have earned their General Education Diploma (GED), completed vocational programs and 15 of them have completed 18 hours of liberal arts college credit at Lipscomb University through the LIFE (Lipscomb Initiative for Education) program. In this program, a Lipscomb professor and 15 Lipscomb students come out to the prison once a week to study together with the inmates.

Lowry will meet with the participants in Lipscomb’s LIFE program prior to the ceremony at 12:30 p.m. at the prison, at 3881 Stewarts Lane, Nashville, and will speak to the entire group of graduates at 1 p.m.

“A quality education is a resource so valuable that anyone who has a desire to learn should have easy access to it. In fact, it is the variety of people interested in learning and growing that makes education so valuable to each and every student,” said Lowry. “I am proud of the hard work each of these graduates has undertaken, and I am glad that so many of our Lipscomb students over the past two years have had the opportunity to get to know them and appreciate them.”

So far this year, 786 Tennessee prisoners have received their GED certificates while 1,342 earned vocational certificates. The TDOC is committed to helping offenders leave prison in better shape than when they arrived.

“We know that a key factor in preventing repeat offenders is encouraging individuals to reach their potential,” said Sharmilla Patel, Director of Education for the Tennessee Department of Correction. “The initiative with Lipscomb University gives the incarcerated a second chance toward becoming productive citizens, it’s an effort that will certainly change lives.”

This has certainly been true in the case of the inmates taking Lipscomb classes. Fifteen inmates have taken 18 hours of courses in judicial process, literature, art appreciation and ethics.

“Today I do not wish to be a product of my past but a lighthouse to my future,” one of the TPFW students, who has since been paroled, wrote for her parole board appearance. “The Lipscomb program has been the seed of my dreams; the knowledge has been my water.”

Now paroled, this student is hoping to continue her education at Lipscomb, said Richard Goode, a Lipscomb professor of history who created the LIFE program after similar experiences teaching prisoners at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution as part of his graduate studies at Vanderbilt University.

“One of the things that tends to happen in our criminal justice system is that the inmates become dehumanized,” said Goode. “We never see the inmates, so we develop certain perceptions about them, most of which are false. When we all get in a room together, it humanizes the situation.”