Prisoners urge students to stay in school

June 27, 2008 1:55:04 PM PDT
Most high school students are on summer vacation now, but when school resumes in August, some of those students won't go back to school.

Instead they will drop out and when they do, they increase their chances of ending up in school.

That's why prisoners are going to classes to encourage students to stay in school.

"I went to prison when I was 19 years old," Jerry Henderson told a room full of students.

For Henderson, visiting schools ant talking to students is one way of reclaiming the past.

"See, I couldn't get a job, or I didn't want a job, because of my education status," Henderson said. "I didn't have a high school diploma or GED at the time."

He's part of the "Think Smart" program that sends inmates into local schools to share their lives and their mistakes. Henderson, who is a Warren County native, things began to spiral out of control when his father walked out of his life, he dropped out of school.

"I pretty much hung around, day to day at home, my mother couldn't make me go back," Henderson said. "I guess she felt during the time she couldn't handle me because I was so big, and I made my decision not to go back. I didn't do anything. I didn't have any money, I didn't have a job. She didn't support me any cause of the fact I wasn't in school. I was just pretty much hanging out in the streets."

Now 38 years old, he spends much of his day doing janitorial work at a Durham prison where he shares his living quarters with dozens of inmates.

He hopes to get out in a couple of years. He says his reward comes when he hears back from those students he's been able to talk to.

One student says he got a lot from the lectures because the prisoners talked about how they messed up.

Henderson's bottom line to the students is dropping out is a dead end.

See John Clark's full report and learn about other efforts underway to keep students in school in an Eyewitness News special called Invest in Success. It airs 7 p.m. Saturday, June 28.


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