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Tennessee university holds special graduation inside prison

By The Associated Press

This article was published December 15, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.


In this Dec. 13, 2013 photo, inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tenn., wear graduation gowns over their prison uniforms for their graduation ceremony. Nine inmates earned an associates degree through Lipscomb University, carrying a collective GPA of 3.7. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE — When Lipscomb University professor Richard Goode first had the idea of offering basic college classes to prisoners, he had no idea how popular the program would become. It's not just the inmates who love it, but also professors and traditional Lipscomb students who vie for opportunities to teach and attend classes inside the Tennessee Prison for Women.

Goode's original goal was to offer six courses over two years for 18 credit hours. He met that goal in 2009, but the women who attended classes faithfully each week — often asking for additional reading and homework — did not want to stop. So the university created a special associates degree just for them.

On Friday, nine women received that degree after seven years of hard work. They were surrounded by robed faculty and fellow students from the outside who came to support them in their achievement. Many fellow inmates in blue jeans and blue scrub-style shirts were also in attendance as the women processed up the aisle of the prison gymnasium and took their places in front of a stage decorated with white poinsettias and a purple-and-gold Lipscomb backdrop.

Several of the inmates in the audience were visibly moved by the scene. They passed around tissues and dabbed their eyes as the graduates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

Graduate Barbi Brown spoke for the students, saying, "Everybody has a moment or two in their lives when they feel fulfillment, like they've come full circle. This is one of those."

Brown said Lipscomb gave them a second chance at life — "life as we could have lived it outside of these walls."

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