70 Lockhart prison inmates graduate with high school diploma

Family and friends celebrated the graduation of their loved ones in a Lockhart prison on Friday. Seventy women received their high school diploma after completing classes while being incarcerated. 

There were cheers and tears as the women accomplished something many of them said they never thought they’d be able to do.

"In a courtroom, when the judge walks in, the bailiff says, all rise," Coleman Unit campus and peer mentor Cheryl Jackson said. "Excel graduates, please note, you no longer have to just rise for a judge."

Instead, the inmates rose above adversity.

"Today I stand here an example of how your past doesn’t define your future," 2024 graduate Jernerikae Oliver said.

Oliver, 29, has been in prison for 10 years. She is now a high school graduate.

"I just keep rising, I just keep going," Oliver said.

Oliver is one of 70 women at the Coleman Unit who walked across the stage and received their diploma.

"Being incarcerated shouldn’t be a barrier," The Goodwill Excel Center Superintendent Theresa Rappaport said.

The Goodwill Excel Center offers classes to students while they’re incarcerated to finish their courses they need to graduate and receive specific certifications that can help them get a job when they’re released.


"We believe that education is the foundation for someone who’s been incarcerated to successfully return to their communities and then to achieve whatever it is that they wish to achieve," Rappaport said.

Oliver said her next goal is to get her business degree, and she wants to study new technologies.

"When they say you can’t, you tell them you can, when they tell you it’s too hard, you tell them I’m up for the challenge, and when they tell you you won’t make it, tell them I already did," Oliver said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the class of 2024, all rise," Jackson said.

Studies show people in prison who participate in education programs are 43 percent more likely to not go back to prison after being released.