Warner Robins, Ga. – It is not every day that a former prisoner comes knocking on doors around campus looking for an opportunity, but that is what Larry Jackson, Central Georgia Technical College’s (CGTC) 2019 Georgia Occupational Award for Leadership (GOAL) alternate, did when he was looking for ways to earn a living.
“The difficult part was convincing people to give me a chance,” Jackson said. “People would say, ‘Well, you just got out.’” “They wanted me to have time and experience, but CGTC gave me an opportunity and a break that I needed.”
As unconventional as it may seem for a former prisoner to earn academic credentials, it is even more unconventional to know that the College makes it happen every day for current prisoners.
The Office of Re-entry Services at CGTC is a division committed to the educational and training component of criminal justice reform and recidivism rate reduction among Georgia’s incarcerated citizens, and through its efforts, streamlines effective transition of those citizens into the workforce.
Jackson’s journey with the College began there. He was part of a pilot Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) program ran by Middle Georgia Technical College (MGTC) in the prison system in 2005 prior to its merger with CGTC in 2013.
“I earned my certification and when I was released, I enrolled here not knowing this was the same school that offered me courses before my release,” Jackson said, who left prison in 2016.
Prior to transferring to Georgia Southern University, where he would run into his troubles, he was on scholarship at the Naval Academy for football. Even while in prison, Jackson knew education could be his catalyst.
Jackson never fumbled on his dedication to improving his knowledge, adding to his CNA credentials a series of fire department certifications.
Dr. Brittany Lucas is the executive director of the Office of Re-entry Services at the College. Re-entry Services oversees certificate programs and on-the-job training and employs nearly thirty instructors who teach in areas such as Welding, Design and Media Production, Horticulture, Diesel Truck Maintenance, Animal Healthcare, Barbering, and more.
“Some formerly incarcerated citizens will return to the College, in a traditional sense, to earn additional credentials, but often the challenge of needing to work and build their lives back from nothing is overwhelming,” Dr. Lucas said. “Where I believe Larry’s story is so unique is his incomparable fortitude and commitment to show people just how hard he will work for his future.”
If anything, Jackson is a standout among a peculiar group of CGTC alumni. Exiting prison and all that comes with it provides its own intrigue, but add a heart procedure to it and it can feel unstable.
“My journey here would have to be one filled with ups and downs,” he said. “I had heart surgery before I started taking classes, but I was determined to get here and do well.”
Jackson did well. He enrolled in classes in 2017, and in August of this year earned acceptance into the Clinical Lab Technician associate’s degree program at the College. In September, he began working as a lab assistant in the Health Sciences program.
Jackson works part-time at Home Depot, a company he said, also gave him a chance early on. He wants to continue his studies toward a bachelor’s degree that will help parlay his clinical lab technician skills into a career with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.
As for the GOAL process he said when he received the email saying he had been nominated he had to read it two or three times. It was hard for him to believe that anyone was noticing what he was doing and that he was amazed and thankful to see anyone notice him “putting in work.”
Early on, all he wanted to do was explain his story to the committee involved with GOAL.
“Speaking to them gave me the ability to take hold of the situation,” he said.
Beyond GOAL, he has a very clear message for each person involved with prison reform.
He said his view is unique on how the system distinguishes candidates for programs, training, and education. He says there are plenty of qualified men or women who could come through a program as he did and make something of themselves post-release. Unfortunately, be it for a technicality or some slip-up, they never get the opportunity.
“Even for myself it was very difficult,” he said. “My hope is that lawmakers, judges, whoever is advocating in the community, will look at these individuals and see who is really ready to make a change. Those are the people you should really give an opportunity to.”
GOAL, a statewide program of the Technical College System of Georgia, honors excellence in academics and leadership among the state’s technical college students. Each of the state’s 22 technical colleges selected local GOAL winners and alternates. CGTC’s 2019 GOAL Winner is Heather Williamson.
Photo: CGTC’s 2019 GOAL Alternate, Larry Jackson.