Educate Oklahoma: Inmates Receiving An Education
LEXINGTON, Oklahoma - Currently there are over 61,000 men and women in Oklahoma who are in prison. Each and every one has a chance at an education.
News 9’s Justin Dougherty goes inside prison gates to show how “Educate Oklahoma”, includes all Oklahomans.
"I didn't ever think that I would work in a prison as a teacher, I didn’t start here as a teacher," said Mary Gann, acting principal at Lexington Correctional Center.
But this is where Mary Gann is now.
The barb wire. The tall fences. The locked doors. This is school at Lexington Correctional Center.
Gann's students are convicted criminals.
"I don't want to blame anybody but they failed themselves somewhere down the line or somebody else failed them somewhere along the line so I feel our teachers are here for them," said Gann.
Thanks to state funds each inmate has the opportunity to get a GED, or to at least learn to read.
"The majority of them that come in have an average reading ability,” said Gann.
She said most of the inmate read at about a 5th-6th grade level.
"My little girl, she used to bring a book to me and say ‘Daddy read me a story’. I’d start trying to read it, couldn't read it so, I’d throw it across the room and say we'd have to wait till momma comes home and ask her to help us read it," said Sheb Bennett, an inmate at Lexington.
Sheb Bennett is serving a 20-year sentence for killing his cousin. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder in 2012. So far, he's served four years at Lexington.
"I’ve come a long ways with reading,” said Bennett.
Bennett said he’s now reading four different books.
"Being incarcerated is for corrections so I feel as I wanted to correct my behavior and give myself a better chance at life after prison," said Shelvon Williams, an inmate at Lexington.
Shelvon Williams is serving time for eluding police and possession of drugs. He dropped out of Tulsa Union High School when he was a junior.
Now, both inmates and hundreds more have their diplomas. Bennett and Williams are even classroom tutors.
"I felt like a different person too," said Williams.
And their teacher also has a lesson for everyone outside these walls.
A lot of people may say they're criminals. Let them rot. Why is this important?
"I think the most important thing to that question is some day they might be your neighbor. Because there are going to be some that will get out. And the better educated they are the more responsible they become the disciple we try to instill in them by coming to class. Those are the things that make them better people," said Gann.
In 2016 the Department of Corrections reports over 400 inmates learned to read at an 8th grade level. Over 600 received a basic education, and over 1,200 inmates were handed their GED's.