Diplomas behind bars

Published 10:45 am Friday, May 7, 2010

The program coordinators at the Freeborn County jail are motivating inmates to attend classes and take the required tests to pass the General Education Development tests.

One inmate, Shaun Blouin, 26, originally from Owatonna, took the five tests and passed. He received his GED certificate and the programmers, Stephanie Pirsig and Jessica Meyer, had a recognition ceremony for him.

“I want to thank these guys, especially Stephanie,” Blouin said. “She saw something I didn’t see.”

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Blouin said Pirsig would encourage him to attend classes and then helped him by arranging a test time. He thinks it will help him when he is released, and he plans to go to Riverland Community College. He wants to get certified as an ASC master technician and also learn motor building. He hopes to open his own machine shop some day.

Blouin said he never would have taken the GED tests if it weren’t for Pirsig’s encouragement. He said he also wouldn’t have been able to afford the tests. It costs $100 to take the tests. An anonymous donor from the Albert Lea area donated the money so Blouin could take the GED.

“Whoever that was thank you very much, that was beyond nice,” Blouin said. “I owe that person a lot.”

Pirsig has been working at the jail since June last year. She wants to keep implementing programs to help the detainees learn basic skills. They have classes to help prepare inmates for the GED as well as financial classes and stress relief.

Pirsig said a retired English teacher comes to the jail during set times each week to teach the inmates about the five subjects that they will be tested on for the GED. Then they are assigned the practice tests and Pirsig tries to arrange for official testing when they are ready. Blouin liked his time with the volunteer teacher.

“English was fun,” Blouin said. “I wouldn’t have fallen asleep in English if I had her in school.”

Some problems with educating inmates at the jail are that they could be transferred or dismissed before testing is available. Pirsig hopes that someday the jail could partner with a local college and get college classes available for the detainees.

“I really like that it creates hope and gives them increased self-esteem,” Pirsig said. “They can see their life in a different way.”

The jail is looking for all kinds of volunteers to help with teaching the inmates. They would like someone who could help teach computer skills. All of their materials are donated including their computers, books and reference materials. They’re always looking for more donations as well.

Pirsig likes the opportunities that are available in jail. She hopes teaching inmates skills will help them when they leave.

“It doesn’t help just one person,” Pirsig said. “They’ll be able to provide for their families.”

She hopes that her efforts will lower recidivism, which is when a convict relapses back into crime and has to go back into the system. She wants them to learn about house loans and other life skills they may need.

“We don’t want to just throw them back into the community,” Pirsig said. “We want to use their time here to benefit them.”

Last year Pirsig went through all the necessary regulations to make the jail a licensed satellite site for taking the GED.

Albert Lea’s main testing site is at Brookside Education Center. Diane Hill works at Adult Basic Education at Brookside and was working with Pirsig to make the testing available at the jail.

“I’m glad they can make it available to the detainees,” Hill said. “The more people who can get the GED the better.”

Blouin appreciates that he got the opportunity to study for and pass the GED. He had many words of thanks for those who helped him along the way, including Pirsig.

“I want to thank my grandparents for driving me, Sarah Viktora for wanting me to take the test in the first place and the community for helping me to get it,” Blouin said.