OPELOUSAS — One year ago, St. Landry Parish deputies and federal agents were looking everywhere for Jessica Rose-Puckett, who was on the lam after she and three young men committed a home invasion in Cankton.
On Tuesday, 11 months after she was arrested on a host of felony allegations, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz awarded Puckett with a GED. She is the first inmate at the parish jail to graduate with a high school general equivalency degree while incarcerated.
“When I was out in the free world, I struggled with an addiction,” Puckett, 27, said. “I didn’t want to live that life anymore. … With this (GED) program, I’m not the person I was 11 months ago.”
With the tell-tale prison orange jumpsuit showing below her black graduation gown, Puckett said she had a renewed sense of self-worth that comes with accomplishing something that was hard to do.
Guidroz said the St. Landry Parish jail is one of a few run by sheriff’s offices in Louisiana that has a program that gives inmates a chance to earn a diploma.
And looking at Puckett, Guidroz said “there are girls here (in the jail) who are looking at what you have done. … It’s unbelievable what you can do when you put your mind to it.”
The St. Landry Parish program works in collaboration with the state Department of Corrections. Sarah Blocker, an education specialist with the DOC, said Puckett is now qualified to be a tutor for other inmates.
Lillian Rideaux Savoy, a sheriff’s employee who works as a GED instructor for inmates, said Puckett started the program in October reading at a sixth-grade level. Savoy said Puckett struggled but continued to work hard.
Savoy also said 25 other St. Landry Parish inmates are in the GED program.
Guidroz is among Louisiana sheriffs who have instituted programs designed to help inmates prepare for life after jail. Guidroz said his corrections staff came to him with the GED initiative.
“We cannot continue to step on the throats of those who are incarcerated,” he said.
He said it’s important to keep inmates intellectually active and to offer them programs that, once they’re released, could help keep them out of jail.
Puckett was arrested in mid-June last year, weeks after her alleged co-home invaders were jailed. The four allegedly tied up a homeowner at a Billeaux Road residence in Cankton and threatened to kill him. The homeowner eventually freed himself, escaped and alerted police.
Locked up in lieu of $750,000 bail, Puckett remains in the parish jail awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy, home invasion, kidnapping and attempted murder, according to the Clerk of Court’s Office. The three defendants who were charged along with Puckett also remain in the parish jail.
Puckett, who has a 3-year-old son living with family, said she knows it may be a while before she’s free and able to raise her child.
She said that besides the GED program, she’s taken advantage of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs available to inmates.
Puckett said that while she’s in jail she wants to be an inspiration to other inmates, and perhaps when she gets out she can become a motivational speaker to those who have gone off of life’s rails.
“I have plans for when I get out,” she said.