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'This isn't the end': Aiken County detention center celebrates its first class of GED graduates

Aiken Standard - 6/6/2024

Jun. 6—In a classroom in the Aiken County detention center, Capt. Nick Gallam prepared a 2024 graduate banner for the projector to provide the most pomp and circumstance for his graduates.

Inmates Shannon Rees, 41; Stevi Kneece, 38; and Brooke Ryder, 22; arrived in caps and gowns a few minutes later.

It was a small, but significant, service for Rees, Kneece, Ryder and the state of South Carolina.

They, along Timothy White who was released days prior, had completed General Education Diplomas while serving their respective sentences. They are also the first Aiken detention center inmates to do so.

Aiken County is one of four detention centers in South Carolina to offer GED certificate programs to its inmates.

The detention center collaborated with the Aiken County Public School District and the South Carolina Department of Education in an effort to educate more inmates.

The goal is to improve inmates' lives and reduce their chances of recidivism — going back to jail after release — thus reducing crime.

Gallam said in his remarks that 68% of inmates reoffend within three years. Among that 68% , inmates who participate in education programs are 43% less likely to go back to jail.

"Once somebody obtains their associate's degree, that rate drops to 14%," Gallam said. "I think with those statistics it's easy to say that the solution to recidivism is clearly education."

When Rees, Kneece and Ryder were asked what they planned to do once they were released, they said "going to Aiken Tech," simultaneously.

Rees said she hopes to become a registered nurse, Kneece said she wants to become an interior designer and Ryder said she wants to start her own business.

They said that anyone's potential is limitless.

"Don't think you can't do it because you can," Rees said.

One of the ceremony's only guests was Leah Jones.

Jones said she goes to jail to help fellow inmates after her own battles with addiction.

She has been clean for more than seven years and is a mom and business owner.

"You can do normal things — well, not normal, because normal is boring," Jones said. "Don't come back here because I don't wanna keep seeing you do these things, and I'm tired of losing my girls ...go see the good parts of life because these streets will kill you."

Aiken County's next GED class will start July 22.

"We're only gonna get better," Aiken County Adult Education Center Director Garen Cofer said. "We're going to dedicate more resources, more time and energy to the facility to make sure that we have as many caps and gowns to pass out as possible."

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(c)2024 the Aiken Standard (Aiken, S.C.)

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