As 23-year-old Zachary Tindle approached the lectern to accept his degree, the moment was bittersweet.
Tindle had dropped out of high school his senior year in 2014 and since been on a path that led him all the way to a halogen-bulb lit half gymnasium Thursday inside the Franklin County Regional Jail, where he’s been incarcerated since January. Now, five years removed, Tindle had picked up where he left off and received his high school diploma equivalency.
“It’s a good feeling to get my degree,” he said. “I needed it. I wish I never dropped out — I probably wouldn’t have ended up in here.”
Tindle was among eight other inmates Thursday to receive their general education diplomas (GEDs) while incarcerated at the FCRJ. It’s part of a program provided by Thorn Hill Learning Center, 700 Leslie Ave., to give jail inmates a chance to complete their high school education. And this academic year, the non-profit set a record with 35 graduates from FCRJ alone, according to figures provided by the learning center.
Rita Rector, learning center director, said that the GED program benefits the inmates and the community because it gives inmates options to pursue legitimate income once released.
“There is just no way they won’t turn back to a life of crime without a degree,” she said.
The achievement by Thorn Hill Learning Center is unmatched throughout the state. Their 35 graduates for the academic year surpasses much larger counties — including those home to Lexington and Louisville — with only Hardin and Marion counties coming within grasp of the top spot.
Kelley Anderson, a GED instructor, said it is because FCRJ allows enough access for teachers to evaluate inmates education level and cater the GED preparation to the individual.
“We personalize the program to each person,” she said. “You might not be strong in reading and better at mathematics. We just try to accommodate everyone.”
Inmates are also incentivized to pursue a GED by a state program, which reduces their jail stay by 90 days, and FCRJ further incentivizes graduates in the institution with $100 from its commissary fund to go toward phone calls, hygienic products, food or other items that are likewise maintained by the commissary, jail officials said.
Rector said it is a benefit not only to the inmates but also the community.
“There are places in Kentucky that don’t let adult education in and it’s a travesty,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re serving the community and the people in here.”