AMITE — Mike Wolbers quit high school when he was just 14 years old.
Today, the 23-year-old is an inmate in the Tangipahoa Parish Jail, and is trying to make a fresh start.
Wolbers and State Department of Corrections and Tangipahoa Parish inmates are making use of their time in jail by preparing for and receiving their GEDs.
The Tangipahoa Parish Jail started its GED program again in February when Quanita Boehm, a retiree from the Tangipahoa Parish School Board Adult Education Center, took over the classes for a former teacher who was transferred. To date, four inmates have graduated from the program, and more are slated to graduate soon, said Capt. Stuart Murphy, with the jail.
With 15 men and 15 women enrolled in the GED classes, Murphy is hoping the inmates’ futures are brighter.
Those who show interest in the program are first tested to determine their education level, and only those serious about receiving an education are permitted to take the class, Murphy said. Inmates who complete the program get time knocked off of their sentence, he said.
To help inmates keep on track with the two-day-per-week classes, Murphy said the jail uses trustees to assist with tutoring.
Trustee Derek Quebedeaux said he can “definitely see a level of confidence (in the inmates who receive their GED).”
“A light bulb clicks on very quickly and they begin to use it (what they’ve learned) for everyday life,” Quebedeaux said.
“They already begin to put it into real-life scenarios,” he said.
For example, Quebedeaux said inmates who have received their GED often use their newfound English skills to write letters to their loved ones.
The long-running class ended in September after the previous teacher, who had been teaching the class for two decades, was transferred, Murphy said.
However, the GED program has been in danger before, Murphy said, when funding for the program was cut from the Adult Education budget about two years ago. To help continue the program, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards agreed to pay for the classes while Adult Education continues to supply all of the materials for the class, Murphy said.
“We’re just glad to be able to offer this small service,” Murphy said.
Now that the program is back on track, inmates like Wolbers are doing what they can to secure a better life for themselves and their families once they get out of jail.
“I quit school at 14,” said Wolbers, who received a four-year prison sentence for manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine.
“That’s why I started doing it (selling) because my family needed the money,” Wolbers said. “Any job I would have gotten wouldn’t have paid what I was making selling drugs.”
Wolbers, who also had a baby at 14, had his child and other siblings to support, he said.
The opportunity to get his GED has been a lifesaver, he said.
“This is the perfect opportunity,” Wolbers said. “I’m here; I have nothing but time.”
Wolbers said once he is released from jail, he wants to continue his education, and possibly attend trade school or college.
“I want to,” he said. “I plan to.”
Like Wolbers, Keausity Haley, 22, said he “rushed into being an adult.”
Haley, who was sentenced to two and a half years for negligent homicide, said he too had to get a job early on to help support his family.
Now, as a recent GED graduate, Haley said he is excited.
“I was jumping for joy,” Haley said of receiving his GED. “I was all over this room.”
“You get to exercise your brain,” Haley added.
“It will be good to get out (of jail) and do something, he said.
“My future holds a lot — and the GED — having that will make my life better.”
After serving his sentence, Haley said he hopes to enroll in school to become a certified nursing assistant, a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse. He said he is also considering driving a truck.
“I’m going to do something,” Haley said. “I don’t know what it is, but I see this as a stepping stone to success. I thank the Lord every day for it.”
Johnathan Malbrugh has been enrolled in the GED class since April, and said he enjoys it.
The 29-year-old, who received a three-year sentence for drugs, said he “just wanted to get something positive from coming to jail.”
Malbrugh said he had gotten kicked out of high school as a youth.
“I’m very excited,” Malbrugh said about the possibility of receiving his GED.
“I was hoping to get out (of jail) and get me a trade,” he said.
As he talked about his future, Malbraugh, an already soft-spoken man, suddenly paused, “I don’t want my daughter to use that as an excuse not to get hers (high school diploma).”
“Even if you never have to use it, at least you have it,” he said.
Recent graduates under Boehm are Brandon Williams, Michael Nelson, Haley and Wolbers.