Nine prisoners receive college degrees - WSMV Channel 4

Nine prisoners receive college degrees

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It was a unique celebration for nine inmates Friday inside the Tennessee Women's Prison.

Every one of them are serving sentences for serious crimes.

But today they did something they never thought would happen - they earned and received their college diplomas.

All nine of the women are now considered college graduates thanks to an eight-year study program facilitated by Lipscomb University.

But in prison, graduating doesn't mean you get to leave. All still have sentences to serve, but that didn't diminish their level of satisfaction and achievement.

On the day, the Department of Corrections issued jeans on a cap and gown day.

"I'll be emotional for several reasons," said Markeisha Seagraves, one of the graduates. "My daughter will be here and I want to show her you can fall down, but you have to get back up. I'm a woman with an associate's degree inside the penitentiary."

For the past eight years on Wednesday nights, professors and students came to the prison to teach.

The program isn't about forgiveness, it's about progress and how life-changing mistakes can be met by life-changing accomplishments.

Math, literature and history, and lots of study time. The nine graduates finished with a combined 3.7 grade point average.

"They have been exceptionally diligent in pursuing this degree and it's wonderful to celebrate with them," said Dr. Richard Goode, Lipscomb Life program director.

Not every graduate today did this for their own satisfaction.

"It's not for me. This is a gift given to me, but it's a gift meant to keep giving and giving to others," said Donna McCoy.

McCoy, who is serving a life sentence, didn't let that diminish her desire and hard work to get to this moment.

She'll use it to influence the young and the new inmates who wind up in prison.

"I need now to show them there's a better way to live," said Mason. "The quality of life in here can lead to a quality of life outside."

The nine who graduated today now have associate of arts degrees. Several of those nine will be released from prison within the next 18 months.

There are currently 34 other inmates taking classes through the Lipscomb Life Program.

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