Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Education Reforms Lives of Incarcerated Students

Kevin Puckett had a rough start in life landing him in prison for more than a decade. Despite his rocky past, he's doing well.

Puckett was recently released from prison and is now only one class shy of graduating from Rio Salado College with an associate degree. His plans are to continue his education, become a counselor and start his own business.

Puckett is one of more than 2,000 students a year who have accessed RSC classes while incarcerated. He began taking courses and found that he was not only capable of completing school work, he was good at it.

“For me, it was life altering. I was completely motivated to do something positive,” he said.  “The teachers are always very, very fast to say, 'Hey, you know, you are doing excellent.'"

Puckett worked hard, saving what little money he earned at his prison job to pay for the classes and proved that he wanted to change his life for the better through education.

“I showed Rio Salado that I was a serious student,” he said.

Eventually, his efforts as a serious student turned him into a teacher. He began teaching GED classes to other inmates, hoping to inspire them to pursue a better life.

Heidi Jaeger, an RSC administrative assistant who oversees much of the incarcerated education programs, sees education as an opportunity for those who are incarcerated.

“The ones that have taken courses are well grounded and ready to give back to the community,” she said.

Jaeger says that when students can focus on their classes they often avoid trouble.

“Once they get those first few classes under their belts, they realize they can reach for the stars,” she said.

Laura* was incarcerated for three years. During her time in prison she also took classes with Rio Salado College and now has two degrees.

“I just can’t describe what that does for you,” she said about how college classes increased her confidence.

Laura was a high school dropout. A long road of mistakes and bad choices left her feeling hopeless and lost until she began her in-prison Rio Salado College classes.

“It gave us goals to look forward to. I don’t know where I would be right now without those classes,” she said.

College classes can strengthen an inmate's resolve to improve their life. One opportunity leads to another until eventually they've found a way to rise above their mistakes, leaving the past behind them...for good.


Rio Salado College has been providing education for the prison population since 1983 and currently provides classes for all of the Arizona State correctional facilities, juvenile detention centers, the Arizona State Hospital, and multiple out of state correctional facilities.

*Requested that her last name not be used.

By Matt Loper, PR Intern

This story can also be found in the October 13th edition of the Tempe Republic.