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Prison inmates graduate High School

Posted at 6:32 PM, May 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-26 21:32:37-04
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - At the Department of Corrections’ Whetstone unit near Tucson there was a mass escape the administration actually assisted.  On Thursday, thirteen inmates escaped from the shackles of a life without a High School Diploma.
There are plenty of High School graduations now but there was a graduation Thursday with some very special students who had to walk a tough path to earn their diplomas.
They are inmates in the state prison system, receiving their diplomas  thanks to a special program from the Department of Corrections.  
Look under the caps and gowns and you'll see the distinctive orange of a prison uniform.
Alfred Ramos is their warden of the Whetstone Unit.
"Did you ever think that one day you would become an answer to prayer? You didn't. But today is that day."
Thursday was their reward for finding the determination and discipline they lacked, when they stepped out of school and onto the paths that led them to prison.
The prison program called Arizona Success Academy qualifies as a High School able to grant High School Diplomas instead of a GED.
Getting that diploma required Brandon Tribble to learn how to be a student again after about 20 years away from the classroom.
"It opens up all kinds of avenues for furthering my education, chasing my dreams.  I'm a musician by heart.  I want to get into the music industry so it just opens new doors for me."
Tribble was in on drug charges. Now he's about three months away from release.  He knows people may hesitate to hire someone with a record but now he can show his diploma as evidence he knows how to work hard for something better.
Program organizers like Karen Hellman say a diploma earned in prison carries real weight when a former inmate looks for a job.
“Prospective employers definitely do look at inmates who've released who show up at their door looking for a job who have a diploma as having shown the initiative to actually use their time in prison wisely."
Emillio Pesina was a sophomore when he dropped out of High School.  He says it was a tough getting back in the groove after years away from school.  
"Anything's possible now.  I feel I can further pursue my education.  I can start a career of my choosing anywhere.  That really makes me feel great."
Pesina got in trouble for theft and dealing in stolen property. He still has a year and a half on his sentence. But now that he has a diploma, he says while he waiting he'll start preparing for college.