Staff, community members and families gathered in March to celebrate nine residential reentry participants who obtained their high school equivalency diplomas through the education department at the Tully House in Newark, New Jersey. The ceremony welcomed speakers and guests from GEO Reentry and the Department of Corrections who shared uplifting messages about the path to a life without crime.
The celebration began with a warm welcome from Tully House Facility Administrator Paula Lord, who set a positive tone for the event by thanking the staff members and community partners for their efforts in supporting participants and making testing accessible for residents.
In her keynote speech, NJDOC Assistant Commissioner Dr. Darcella Sessomes addressed graduates with the message, “don’t be fooled by the suit,” and reminded the audience to never let the suit they wear define them. She emphasized the importance of staying true to yourself and not letting assumptions get in the way of goals, sharing her personal experiences about working in criminal justice and success stories about individuals who changed their life for the better. Sessomes concluded her address by handing out activity packets for children and novels for graduates, to keep them motivated towards a positive life.
Tully House staff took the stage to speak about the importance of education and staying out of prison. Studies have shown that education can drastically lower recidivism rates, with some findings indicating that educational programs cut recidivism from 49 percent to just 20 percent. Education removes many barriers for finding employment upon release, which is necessary for participants to secure income and successfully rejoin their communities.
Participants also shared about the sense of accomplishment they felt by earning their diplomas and encouraged fellow residents to take advantage of the education opportunities at Tully House. Gerald R., a diploma recipient, spoke about his own struggles in the education program but expressed gratitude towards reentry staff for helping him not feel discouraged by setbacks.
“I was going to give up after the fourth time not passing the test, but with the encouragement and help of [Samantha Brooks, the Education Manager at Tully house] I was able to pass the math section after taking it for the fifth time,” Gerald said. Since earning his high school education, he said he now hopes to attend college when he completes his reentry program.
GEO Reentry incorporates education through evidence-based programs and valuable community partnerships. With evidence-based programs offering classes in life skills and job preparedness, participants learn important social skills and professional etiquette to help them become productive members of society when they rejoin their communities. Through community partnerships, reentry centers can connect participants to specialized programs, like housing services, vocational training, adult learning and education programs awarding accredited diplomas, degrees or certifications upon completion.