'Move forward in the plan He has for you'
• BJCC holds GED graduation
May 1, 2022
It has been two years since Bill Johnson Correctional Center (BJCC) in Alva has been able to hold a GED graduation ceremony for inmates and their families. With Covid-19 pandemic protocols lifted, the classes of 2021 and 2022 were honored on Thursday morning, April 28, in the prison chapel.
The program lists 111 graduates, but most of those have alrready left the facility. Twenty-nine of the inmates donned black caps and gowns for the ceremony, walking down the aisle as family members watched. Several wore red or blue collars draped over the black, indicating they scored among the top 20 percent in the nation on their GED tests.
Before the program began, Chief of Strategic Engagement Millicent Newton-Embree of the Department of Corrections presented two state awards. The 2021 Teacher of the Year award went to Penny Morgan, BJCC site supervisor for the education program. Morgan was previously at William S. Key Correctional and transferred to BJCC when that facility closed.
Embree announced that the 2021 Volunteer of the Year award went to Humphrey Family Ministry. The group has been involved at BJCC and several other medium and minimum security facilities in the state. Pam Humphrey, former DOC state superintendent, accepted the award.
Morgan opened the program, introducing the two co-valedictorians Matthew Cleveland and Justin Hignite. She recognized the three co-salutatorians John Farmer, Jeremy Rodgers and Joseph Williams. She also introduced the teachers working at BJCC.
In addition to accepting the volunteer award, Humphrey was the featured speaker. "Never again in all of history will we be here exactly like this," she told the graduates. Asking them to consider the importance of that statement, she repeated it again.
Humphrey said if her speech had a title it would be "The Plan" based on Jeremiah 29:11 – "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Speaking to the graduates, Humphrey said, "Every person came to this earth with a divine plan. Find that plan and seek after it with all your heart."
Using her own life as an illustration, Humphrey told about teaching herself to pick out songs she heard on a piano. When she was four years old, her mother sought out a piano teacher explaining she already played by ear. As a child, Humphrey thought that was a mistake. She played with her fingers not her ear. Despite days when learning to read and play music felt too hard, she persevered and became adept on the piano.
Later she went to college and became an English teacher. After 14 years, she lost her job due to RIF (reduction in force). Humphrey said she was devastated. Then a friend told her BJCC had an opening. She applied and was hired.
Over the years, "somebody would leave and I'd have to take on that job," she said. She continued to learn new skills and kept moving up. Finally she became the state superintendent for the Department of Corrections.
Humphrey said as a little child she never would have thought her dream job would be as an English teacher in a prison.
Closing her remarks, Humphrey told the graduates she wanted to "declare some things over you.
"I see men sitting in front of me who have wisdom. I see men who have unique talents and abilities." She continued to list their possibilities: music inside you, writing poetry, writing books, counselors of people, ministers of music or the word, creating "legal" businesses (drawing laughter), loyal and steadfast employees.
"You have everything in you to make you a success," she told them. Humphrey advised them to "cut the strings" of friends from before so they can reach a higher level.
"Move forward in the plan He has for you," she concluded.
As their names were called, each graduate stepped forward to receive a diploma from Dr. Jeana Ely, the DOC state superintendent. They were also given a Bible, a gift of love provided by the Alva Presbyterian Church and the Alva Bible Baptist Church.
Dr. Ely offered closing remarks. She said as a young child, she wanted to be a cruise director. Instead she ended up as a public school teacher. She taught the tough kids. Then one day her husband commented, "You're getting kind of mean." She decided it was time to look for a different position.
She applied for and received a teaching position at Lexington Correctional and "never turned back."
Ely said as she was growing up, two phrases were repeated often in her home: "Reading is your friend" and "Continue your education." She said reading is essential to everyday life – reading traffic signs, etc. And continuing your education doesn't necessarily mean going to classes but simply to learn something new every day.
BJCC Chaplain John Clapp gave the benediction. With their tassels moved to the other side of their caps, the graduates filed out to enjoy refreshments and visiting time with their families.