Blue was the new orange Tuesday at the La Plata County Jail as three inmates sporting blue caps and gowns with yellow tassels received their General Educational Development diplomas.
“I don’t have to tell the people in this room that a lot of things can be taken away from you in this life – houses, people – but you can’t have your education taken away from you. You have it forever,” said Stephanie Moran, high school equivalency program manager, who will retire this month after serving 18 years at the Durango Adult Education Center.
Alonzo Summa, 33, wants to pursue a career in welding. Omar Perez, 27, wants to be an architect. Rory Roesler, 28, says the degree will help in his career as an auto mechanic, but he also wants to pursue a degree in computer science.
“It was a lot of studying, but we had a lot of support,” said Roesler, who is from Salt Lake City and is serving time for fraud, possession of a weapon, driving without a valid license and resisting arrest.
Jerry Rodri, who manages the jail kitchen, where Roesler works as a trustee, said when Roesler received his scores, which denote he scored at college-ready levels, he was struck with emotion.
Summa, who is from Towaoc and being held on a federal hold, said he wants to look into underwater welding because the pay is better.
“I finally got it,” Perez said when handed his diploma. He is originally from Rocky Ford and is serving time for aggravated robbery, failure to appear and a federal hold.
He said this was his second effort at trying to earn a GED diploma, and this time, he was more serious about it.
“I told my mom I wanted to make my time useful, and I wanted to get it for her for Mother’s Day.”
The three received their diplomas after lunch, and an appreciative group of inmates applauded and hooted when the three graduates honored tradition and moved their tassels from right to left on their caps. A streamed version of “Pomp and Circumstance” provided musical accompaniment.
“In 40 years of teaching, working with these men has been the most inspiring experience of my life,” said Gretchen Wilson, a humanities teacher with the Durango Adult Education Center.
Lt. Gary Boudreau, who coordinates volunteer programs at the jail, said the GED program is valuable for people trying to alter their direction in life.
“People talk about recidivism – how difficult the problem is, but one thing is getting a GED. Those people, I don’t see them come back as much,” he said.