Graduates honored

Shirley Sullivan thought she'd never see her son graduate from high school but he received his diploma Thursday -- in prison.

"I was the proudest person here," Sullivan said, hugging Keith Sullivan, 29, in the dimly lit gymnasium. "Keith has come a long way. He's done so much."

Keith has been incarcerated at the Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City for 20 months and, depending on his parole hearing, could be out in four.

"I'm really looking forward to getting out there and starting a new life," he said. "Graduating has really given me a boost of confidence."

Ernie McKenzie, director of the prison education program, said allowing prisoners to earn their diplomas helps both the prisoner and society.

"For the state, it saves money in the long run," he said. "They spend less time in jail and when they get on the streets with a diploma, they don't re-offend."

More than 80 percent of Nevada inmates were originally high-school dropouts but 85 percent of those who receive a high school diploma never return.

Nearly 60 percent of inmates who do not receive educational programs will end up in prison again.

John Lommel, 31, does not plan to return. He is set to be released Sept. 3 after being locked up a year.

"It's ironic that coming here is when I've finally been able to finish my adult diploma," he said. "It feels great."

Lommel plans to return to his hometown of Sparks and continue his education at Truckee Meadows Community College. He's enrolled in a vocational rehabilitation program and said he has great family support.

Lommel had only a few credits to make up but Carlos Hernandez, 30, had only earned a few credits before being arrested.

He was sent to a maximum security prison in Ely eight years ago, still believing education was only for nerds.

Now he is in a medium security prison with a high school diploma.

"To accomplish something like this after so many years shows me I can accomplish anything," he said. "I just look at it as a stepping stone."

The next step, he said, is a bachelor's degree in an area having to do with agriculture or animals -- a skill he learned through the wild horse training program at the prison.

Ninety-nine inmates from area prisons received general education diplomas in ceremonies scheduled throughout the week and 70 received their high school diplomas. Nineteen received associate degrees from Western Nevada Community College and about 350 are enrolled in college courses.


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