It's graduation season here in the Northwest. Yesterday was the last day of school for most districts and in the afternoon, the streets were full of students celebrating. Those in cars honked their farewells, those on foot cheered with lattes held aloft. The windows of cars and trucks have been decorated for weeks with "Proud parent of THS grad!" and "2009 rules!" "UW bound!" "Proud Scripps dad!" The governor spoke at the University of Washington graduation that went on for almost four hours, according to a grandmother who attended. Caps were adorned with "Hire me."
At the prison, graduation is not quite so visible or vocal. Two times a year, we have a graduation ceremony. The graduating class is small, but the names in the program are many. The greatest number of graduates are those who received their GED certificates. They passed five tests to get that piece of paper, but the work and life behind those tests--if you only knew.
I've heard some of the stories about education interrupted, families that came apart at the seams and made homework impossible, drugs and alcohol that made a more convincing argument. Now they're in prison and here is a small victory, a success, something that puts them on notice that they can indeed accomplish something.
We're a receiving prison. Men don't stay here long, but sometimes just long enough to get a taste of success, long enough to pass the GED tests. They may not be here to pick up the certificate, but they'll get it in the mail.
No horns honking, but the families who come to the graduation are pleased, relieved, amazed. We all eat cake and drink prison punch. One small step toward release, toward a better life back in the community. Maybe I should think about decorating my car when graduation comes around.