More than a dozen inmates at St. Croix’s John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility completed at least one, and in some cases, two or three different continuing education programs recently through the Corrections Bureau’s new “Transforming Lives Academy” program. The Bureau held a graduation celebration Wednesday with staff and inmates in person and virtually via Zoom with family members, Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin and others.
The program is a partnership between the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Excellence in Leadership and the Bureau of Corrections.
At the ceremony, Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark said the Transforming Lives Academy is the first-ever program of this magnitude in the territory. It offers inmates the opportunity to complete high school coursework and requirements and receive their high school diploma from Penn Foster High School in a live-format graduation ceremony.
“Our organization continues to rise because of educational, technical, and strategic programs implemented using the WHY-factor, which takes the very best of positive psychology and purpose to develop remarkable results,” she said.
Suzanne Darrow-Magras, director of UVI’s Center for Excellence in Leadership, led the graduation ceremony. The program included a procession, pomp and circumstance, playing of the national anthem and the Virgin Islands March, and an invocation by Bureau of Corrections Chaplain Ludger Berkitt. Berry-Benjamin along with inmates Stephan Hyacinth and Rodney Miller were among those who offered remarks.
These individuals provided all graduates with words of wisdom and positive energy in being courageous, stepping forward to accomplish educational pursuits, and becoming a trailblazer and role model for education.
“Individuals may develop the impression that positivity cannot come from a correctional institution,” said Hyacinth, but he urged all participants to “dispel that notion and instead practice what you preach and stay focused towards completing goals.”
Lester Roberts, a new recipient of a Penn Foster High School diploma, celebrated his accomplishment in a prepared speech and offered his thanks and appreciation to all those who pushed him towards his goal, “although there were many times when I wanted to quit.” Instead, the many motivational speeches from staff and fellow inmates “kept him on track, and he indeed became successful.”
The Transforming Lives Academy graduates included the following:
Penn Foster High School
National Center for Construction Education and Research
Lester Roberts, Stephan Hyacinth, Eugene Roberts, Adam Mason, Hansel Castillo, Jelani Hall, Nolan Boyd, Daryl Blyden, Winston Georges Jr., and Richard Fahie.
Money Management Course
Stephan Hyacinth, Lester Roberts, Adam Mason, Darrell Blyden, Eugene Roberts, Khalil Jafar, Jelani Hall, Stanley Rodney, Elroy Edwards, Larry Williams, Quanza Heath, Shalome Francis, Jose Rosa, Anthony Gumbs, and Richard Fahie.
“BOC is committed to developing award-winning results which will raise the bar for correctional facilities around the world to emulate,” Testamark said. “Rest assured that our employees, inmates, and facilities remain our number one priority.”