Achievement: Graduates Monique Carlton, left, and Kayla Nicol (second from right) with two friends after they were presented with their GED certificates. *Photos by Kageaki Smith
Achievement: Graduates Monique Carlton, left, and Kayla Nicol (second from right) with two friends after they were presented with their GED certificates. *Photos by Kageaki Smith
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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29: The seven graduates wore mortarboards and gowns while their parents and friends watched on proudly as the GED diplomas were handed out.

But this was a graduation ceremony with a difference.

Beneath their gowns Leo Burgess, Raheam Burgess, Gary Hollis, Kyle Smith, Jahrico Tucker, Kayla Nicol and Monique Carlton wore prison fatigues and white trainers.

It was a reminder that their achievements were all the more impressive as they had been achieved while inmates at the Co-Ed facility.

As they were presented with their certificates the “class of 2011” was urged to “make this the beginning” by a man who knows what it takes to overcome adversity from a prison cell.

Lawyer Charles Richardson addressed the five male and two female graduates as they were awarded their GEDs last week.

Mr Richardson was jailed for shooting at two men in 1995 and studied law while he was in prison.

He spoke candidly about his time behind bars and told the graduates to make the most of their time inside by studying.

He said: “You are at the stage of life now where you have two routes before you.

“One is less travelled and there is the route that almost everybody takes.

“I repeatedly saw guys and girls leaving prison and coming right back.

“Why? Because they were insane. Doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

“There were guys living up there and after five or six years they did not have one stitch of education because they did not take advantage of one programme.

“This is information and people pay for what you know.

“If you don’t know anything don’t expect to get paid much.”

Mr Richardson told graduates he was sent to prison because he had committed a “very serious offence” and shot two people.

He added “I regret it. It was the worst mistake I ever made. I wish I could take it back.

“At Westgate I can not even tell you, I was not a nice guy. I was on the special ward for the first three weeks. Almost every other day I would break the cell up.

“Until eventually one day I was talking to an old guy and he said: ‘You seem quite intelligent, why are you acting like an idiot’.

“It made sense -— a little bit.

“The next thing was Craig Simmons at Bermuda College.

“He taught math, but that was his cover, he was really after the minds of young black men and women.

“In his bag he had a copy of Malcolm X — and we spent more time discussing that than math.

“The first thing that book taught me was people will pay respect to you if you can address them respectfully.”

Mr Richardson described how his family scraped together cash to help him pursue his studies and how he was taken to Bermuda College in handcuffs to take his exams.

He told the graduates their GED qualification could be their first stepping-stone to a new career.

He said: “Don’t think you have achieved some small thing — without a GED law school would not take me.

“If you want something, everything else has to cease to exist.

“At 3am, 4am in the morning I was in the books. Straight after breakfast back in the books. Eighteen hours a day.

“I made use of the one thing you have —   time.

“I know it is not easy but if you are going to be here please make use of your time.”

He warned the inmates that their real struggle would begin once they were released.

He said: “After you get out, there are people who hold your past against you.

“You can not change what you did before but you can change what you do from this day forward.

“But there is life after jail. Trust me.

“If you really want it no one can stop you.

“People will overlook your past if you are genuine with them.”

Prison Commissioner Eddie Lamb and Attorney General Michael Scott praised the graduates for their achievements.

Mr Lamb said: “I am unabashedly proud of these young men and women and have become very attached to some of them.”

Addressing the graduates he added: “Big challenges face this country. Today the challenge is what are you going to do next.

“I believe in these young men and women.

“I don’t see convicts I see my people.”

Acting chief of the Co-Ed facility Darynda Caisey Brown and her deputy Kenneth Cann also congratulated the seven inmates. Some of the graduates themselves read prayers and did readings thanking their teachers who included Calvin Hayward and Sharon Wilkinson.

Graduate Kayla Nicol said: “In these circumstances we made the best of our situation.

“We worked hard to get here and we can hold our head high. The sky is the limit.”

 

Kayla Nicol worked late into the night to get her GED qualification.

The 22-year-old Canadian national scored the third highest social studies score on the island when she took the exams.

Ms Nicol was jailed for three years in January 2011 for trying to smuggle cocaine into Bermuda.

She said: “When I first started the course I just did not want to be here.

“I told the teachers that I was not interested. I just wanted to be back at home in Canada.

“But as time passed my attitude changed .

“I wanted to better myself and do something with my time inside prison.

“A lot of my friends here have helped me along the way and the teachers have stuck with me
throughout.”

Ms Nicol took GED classes every day of the week in the run up to her exams.

She said: “Sometimes I did double classes to catch up.

“I dropped out of school at 15 so this was a chance for me to get something I never thought I would.

“And I did enjoy it. It took my mind off being in prison. I got to think and learn and read books.

“I did a lot of work on my own time too.

“It was a wonderful feeling to pass.”

Ms Nicol is due to be released from prison in January 2013 and plans to head home to Canada.

She said: “I always wanted to work in the health field so I want to do something like that when I get home.

“I know I have changed since I came here. I can think about the future now.

“I would never have done something like this in Canada.”

 

Graduate aims to pursue a career in the music industry


Jahrico Tucker has high hopes of breaking into the music world when he is released from Co-Ed.

 The 17-year-old was jailed for three years in April 2011 for robbery at Magistrates’ Court.

 But as soon as he was sent to the Co-Ed facility he signed up to take his GED diploma.

 He told the Bermuda Sun: “I left school when I was 16 and never got my GED qualification.

 “So when I came here I wanted to make something of my time.

 “I got the books and started working for the exams.

 “I worked hard and I felt the exams went well.

“Then I was walking around one day when one of the teachers came up to me and told me I had passed.

“I felt pretty happy.”

Jahrico, of Smiths, hopes to go to music school in Miami once he gets parole.

He added: “I hope I will get parole in the new year and be able to go to America.

“I want to study music and get into music production.

“I play the piano and want to apply to a college in Miami.

“I want to get into hip-hop production and then come back to Bermuda and work with Bermudian artists.

“The GED is a stepping stone to my future and a chance to get myself straight.”