Over three days, more than 300 Edmonds Community College students celebrated earning GEDs, certificates, and associate’s degrees at Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) in Monroe through the College in Prisons program.
Among the caps, gowns and cupcakes in the dining hall of MCC’s Minimum Security Unit (MSU) were two inmates who sat in the back and cheered for their fellow inmates’ academic achievements. What they didn’t expect was to be acknowledged for their hard work with Edmonds CC Foundation scholarships.
Ryan Cughan and Duane Nelson are the first incarcerated Foundation scholarship recipients. Cughan was awarded the Hernandez-Foy Second Chance Endowed Scholarship for $1,000, and Nelson received a Foundation scholarship for $1,500.
“I have stayed busy as a GED tutor for several years, helping students to grow and learn, offering support with their educational goals,” Cughan wrote in his application. “I have had plenty of time to reevaluate my life in the vacuum that is incarceration and prioritize what really matters to me.
“I am excited about my future in education and look forward to contributing to my community and achieving my future goals.”
Cughan earned the Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management certificate. Edmonds CC President Emeritus Dr. Jean Hernandez selected Cughan as one of two recipients of the Hernandez-Foy Second Chance Scholarship which was founded by Hernandez and her wife, Erin Foy, to provide encouragement and a “second chance” to students with histories of incarceration or homelessness.
“I want to be able to give back to society, not only to repay my personal transgressions but to help improve society,” Nelson wrote in his application. “I believe that it is possible to be more effective to incarcerated individuals when you have had the unfortunate experience of experiencing the system first-hand.”
Nelson has also been a tutor while at MSU. He said the Foundation scholarship will help him realize his goal of becoming a teacher, and he sees himself working in corrections education or with other high-risk adult populations in the future.
“People are generalized, marginalized, and categorized by their actions, not their potential,” Nelson wrote. “I believe that we need to focus on the potential of a person, not the past.
“The system needs a new perspective. I believe that becoming a part of the education establishment will enable me to effect positive change.”
The Foundation scholarships can be used toward tuition, books, and fees during the 2018-19 academic year. Both Cughan and Nelson are anticipating their release from MCC during that time and plan to enroll at Edmonds CC.
“It’s our belief, when we educate incarcerated inmates, we prepare them to return to their communities as productive citizens,” said Dr. Wanda Billingsly, dean of Corrections Education at MCC.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, inmates who participate in corrections education programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison.
Edmonds CC offers classes in three units at MCC – Washington State Reformatory Unit, Twin Rivers Unit, and Minimum Security Unit. Each unit held its own commencement ceremony between June 12-14 at MCC.
Billingsly officiated the MCC MSU ceremony. Edmonds CC Veterans Center Director Chris Szarek presented an inmate who is also a veteran with a veteran service cord. Foundation board member Steve Pennington gave the keynote address.
MCC Class of 2018 By the Numbers:
Minimum Security Unit
50 Building Maintenance Technology certificate
10 Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management certificate
Twin Rivers Unit
12 Computer Programming/Coding