• North Sound college awards first scholarship to inmates

    By: Joanna Small

    Updated:

    MONROE, Wash. - A North Sound community college is giving away its first-ever scholarship for people who are incarcerated. The first two recipients are inmates at the state prison in Monroe.

    “Let's come up with an experiment or a hypothesis,” Duane Nelson said, helping a student inside a classroom at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

    Nelson is talking science but he's part of a much larger social experiment with a proven hypothesis:

    “Yeah I may have done some bad things but that doesn't define me. That doesn't define me at all,” Nelson explained.

    He’s an inmate; the experiment was aimed at giving him the tools to turn his life around, the hypothesis was he'd succeed.

    “I made the decision once I got here to do something to positively affect other people. Because when you get into trouble you negatively affect people and I was trying to do the exact opposite,” Nelson told us.

    Nelson was an engineer until he was convicted of identity theft; he even has a college degree. So he became a tutor inside Monroe's minimum security unit, helping fellow inmates study for their GED. In the process, he realized he wanted to be a teacher on the outside -- but he'll need another degree for that.

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    Because the men in the minimum-security unit are short-timer's they're going to get out, and when they get out they want to be productive members of society; that's hard to do without some college -- and can be college expensive.

    Nelson and another inmate recently released are the first-ever recipients of the Edmond Community College foundation scholarship.

    Instructor Dawnmoon Jaques says statistics show the scholarship will change Nelson's life.

    "If somebody while they're incarcerated gets their two-year degree, 10 percent after five years is the only amount that returns,” Jaques explained.

    Wanda Billingsley is the new Dean of Corrections for Edmonds Community College; she wants to beef up the educational opportunities for inmates.

    “My interest is to add welding and automotive and some other types of vocational programming,” Billingsley said.

    Hopefully, she says, that will lead to more scholarships, “so that students won't have any reason not to succeed and to move forward with their education,” Billingsley continued.

    Nelson plans to begin his teaching degree during his work release program next January.

    “With the scholarship, I think it's a lot easier to get going. It’s that first step and especially leaving here every step is going to be difficult,” he said.

    Except for one step; after his graduation and release Duane plans to step back into the classroom at the prison — as a teacher.

    “I just don't want to be in the khaki uniform,” he said with a laugh.

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