Correctional education changes lives

Sentenced to 60 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for a string of armed bank robberies committed in his early 20s, Timothy Lloyd entered prison an angry, hopeless and defiant young man — but finding faith and pursuing a college education behind bars changed everything.

“I hated the world, and I thought the world hated me. Nothing mattered. I wore black eyes and bloody lips like they were badges,” said Lloyd, who shared his special testimony at the second annual Texas Correctional Education Conference recently hosted by the Lee College Huntsville Center at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville.

Lloyd took classes through the Lee College Huntsville Center and other institutions that offer academic programs to incarcerated offenders, ultimately earning a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Sam Houston State University in 2004. He was paroled in 2007 after serving nearly 21 years, and is now a happy husband, homeowner and professional in the Houston area.

“Education is the reason why I’ve been able to do what I’ve done,” Lloyd told dozens of instructors, prison administrative staff and program alumni who attended the conference. “I am seriously grateful.”

The Lee College Huntsville Center first began offering courses for credit to Texas prison inmates in 1966. Offenders in six TDCJ units and one private state prison can earn degrees and certificates in a wide range of fields and disciplines, from welding technology and automotive mechanics, to horticulture, cabinet-making and microcomputer applications.

Summer enrollment at the Huntsville Center has jumped by nearly 60 percent from the past year. Donna Zuniga, dean of the center, attributes the growth in part to changes in student eligibility criteria set by the TDCJ. State lawmakers also took action in the 83rd Legislature that benefitted correctional education programs, which statistics have shown significantly reduce the number of offenders who return to prison after being released.

“Helping incarcerated Texas offenders elevate their hopes for the future through education is a most rewarding cause,” said Zuniga, emphasizing the importance of a consortium recently formed by the seven colleges that offer classes and training in state prisons. “We can change the direction of more lives than ever before.”

Many of the former offenders who successfully completed coursework through the Lee College Huntsville Center spoke candidly at the conference about the positive impact of their experience. There were also presentations about educational partnerships; institutionalization and rehabilitation opportunities; and an innovative herb gardening program that is thriving at the Mountain View Unit and other facilities in the TDCJ system.

Mary Sue Molnar, whose son graduated with associate degrees this year from the Lee College Huntsville Center, talked about the challenges and stigma faced by offenders’ families.

“We need education in the prison system. Without it, we’re doomed,” Molnar said. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see how my son has grown. I can see how he has changed. You’ve lifted him up, you’ve given him hope. You’ve given our family hope.”