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Inmates graduate in Alexandria jail

Friday - 4/1/2011, 10:34am  ET

jail grads (WTOP Photo/Michelle Basch)
John Porter, former assistant superintendent of schools, is seen with GED graduates Mauricio Gallardo, Deshawn Strattman and Dale Caison. At right is Krista Sofonia, adult education instructor. (Courtesy Photo/Cherye Echane0

Michelle Basch,

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - It looked like a typical graduation ceremony, with graduates wearing black caps and gowns and smiles. Except, this one took place inside a local jail.

At the Alexandria Detention Center, inmates who take and pass the GED test get a graduation ceremony with loved ones, and get to dress the part.

"The caps and the gowns and the family are our way of congratulating them for their hard work," says Krista Sofonia, the jail's adult education supervisor. GED testing at the jail happens four times a year.

Five of the program's newest graduates received their diplomas Thursday in the jail's gym, as other inmates clapped and cheered.

"When I get out I want to further my education, I want to go to college (and) be a physician," says new graduate Deshawn Strattman, 18.

"This is a great accomplishment for me to get my GED. I feel good," says Strattman, who is in jail on burglary charges. .

Another new grad, 20-year-old Dale Caison, is locked up on a weapons charge. "It's letting me see that I am smart, and capable of doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing."

Caison says he also wants to go to college and pursue a career.

Graduation speaker John Porter compared the inmates' achievement to the start of baseball season.

"Everyone has the potential to go to the World Series," Porter said. He's a former assistant superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools and principal of T.C. Williams High School.

Porter also gave the graduates what he called "five pieces of wisdom."

  1. Follow your dreams, but have a backup plan.
  2. Don't ever stop learning.
  3. Don't forget those who have helped you along the way.
  4. Don't forget what's most important in your life.
  5. Don't look back. Keep looking forward and do what's right for you.
At the end of the ceremony, graduates and other inmates get to celebrate with music and refreshments, including cupcakes.

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