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CTC students visit inmates to accept scholarship funds, attend workshop

• Nov 17, 2018 at 4:00 PM

More than 40 students in the Careerline Tech Center Public Safety and Security Services (PSSS) program visited the E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon on Sept. 27 to accept a donation of over $1,200 from inmates and prison staff for the PSSS Scholarship Fund available to PSSS alumni.

Students also attended a special presentation of a workshop facilitated by trained prisoner mentors and correctional staff typically presented to troubled youth to deter them from continuing down the path of the criminal justice system.

Administrative Assistant to the Director of the facility James Dawson, who is a member of the PSSS advisory board, suggested the facility as a fundraising location. Two fundraising efforts within the prison contributed to the donated amount.

Lee Hoeksema, PSSS program instructor for CTC, said the fact the funds were raised by inmates and prison personnel who knew where the funds were going makes the contributions that much more meaningful.

To help raise funds, the National Lifers of America, a statewide nonpartisan prisoner-based, nonprofit organization sold candy bars to the prisoner population as a fundraiser and then voted to donate the profits to the CTC. Additionally, non-uniformed staff opted to pay $2 to participate in “dress down days” during September.

“We have been collecting money for our scholarship mostly through partnerships with television labels due to paraprofessional Dave Blakely’s past involvement with homicide cold cases,” Hoeksema said. “We recently launched the PSSS Scholarship Fund and hope to distribute funds to program alumni in the near future to help support students who want to go into law enforcement. The scholarship fund currently has over $15,000.”

After receiving the donation, students stayed for the Helping Others Pursue Excellence (HOPE) workshop, a community service youth prevention program facilitated by corrections staff and typically presented to at-risk youth. The positive educational workshop gives a first-hand experience of what prison life is like through observation, small group dynamics and the testimonials of staff and trained prisoner mentors to encourage youth toward positive lifestyles and choices.

During the workshop, several inmates shared their personal story of how they arrived in prison and their lives in prison.

CTC PSSS student and West Ottawa High School junior Ashlyn Graham said hearing from the inmates firsthand affected her.

“Their personal stories gave me a different look at life in prison and the prison system," Graham said.

Jason Orrell, a CTC PSSS student and senior at Hudsonville High School, agreed with Graham saying the experience was eye-opening.

“Interacting with the inmates gave me a chance to put a face to what the media, TV, and movies typically portray as prisoners. These are real people with real stories, lives, and loved ones," Orrell said.

Hoeksema said the visit was a “great success” and impactful.

“The students will have memories of this trip based on the access to real-life stories, how easy it is to make a mistake, and the impact these mistakes can have on our lives,” Hoeksema.

Operated by Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Careerline Tech Center prepares high school juniors and seniors for tomorrow's workforce by providing career and technical education in more than 25 career areas.

CTC serves students from public and private high schools, as well as those who are homeschooled, within the following local school districts: Allendale, Coopersville, Grand Haven, Hamilton, Holland, Hudsonville, Jenison, Saugatuck, Spring Lake, West Ottawa, and Zeeland.

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