If there is one thing that Henry Woodard learned in the pursuit of his education, taking a wrong turn doesn’t mean a person can never find their way. 

“One bad chapter in the book is not the end of the story,” said Woodard, the commencement speaker during the Texas Department of Criminal Justice graduation ceremony March 23 at the Stringfellow Unit. Mistakes “strengthen our resolve, and we must grow in wisdom.” 

Twenty-six inmates were honored with their associate degree from Alvin Community College after several years of remaining dedicated to their education despite difficult circumstances. Several inmates also received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. 

Inmates who have graduated from ACC and UHCL have gone on to earn master’s degrees and even start their own businesses. TDCJ studies have shown that the rate of recidivism, or chance of return to prison, greatly declines as an offender’s educational level increases. Offenders, on average, have less than a seventh-grade education. 

ACC President Christal M. Albrecht spoke to the graduates and asked that they pursue their education further. 

“We know that each of you has your own unique life story, and you have each walked your own pathway to bring you here today,” she said. “We hope that you take pride in your accomplishment and that receiving your degree is the beginning of a new era in your lives.” 

ACC offered the first college classes to inmates at the Texas Department of Corrections in 1965. ACC was the first institution of higher education in Texas to offer college programs at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In 2016, ACC was one of 67 colleges throughout the United States to be chosen to participate in the Second Chance Pell program, which provides grants to inmate students. 

Prior to enrolling in college while in prison, each inmate must first earn their high school diploma or GED and pass all the same entrance tests required for every college student. 

Woodard earned his associate degree from ACC during the March 23 ceremony. He said that education has provided him with many opportunities and will continue to benefit him throughout his life. 

“We have bloomed,” he said. “We have grown. We are the future of tomorrow. We can be the hope for tomorrow. Seasons change, but you are built to weather the storm.” 

UHCL speaker Johnny Ward entered TDCJ with a seventh-grade education. He received a master’s degree in literature during the ceremony. 

“I want you to become the best version of yourselves,” Ward said. “Today marks the next chapter in the transition of our lives. Within you, you have the power to achieve your goals.” 

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