Nine Women Serving In Prison Receive Associate Degrees - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Nine Women Serving In Prison Receive Associate Degrees

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by Shannon Royster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nine women currently serving prison time in the Tennessee Prison for Women received Associate Degrees from a local university.

The diplomas were handed out Friday inside the walls of the prison. The ceremony was the culmination of Lipscomb University's Initiative for Education Program. The program began in January of 2007 with 15 inmates and 15 traditional students.

Every Wednesday, all 30 faculty and students gathered at the prison for a liberal arts course. Seven years after the first class, nine of them graduated.

"I'm so excited, I'm so overwhelmed and so joyful and so happy and grateful for the opportunity that I've been afforded, said Antoinette Kidder-Hill, a prison inmate.

It was that opportunity that transformed the Tennessee Prison for Women's gym and its inmates into college graduates. It's also an opportunity these eight women weren't supposed to get.

"I've never seen myself getting a second chance," said Kidder-Hill. "It's just a blessing from God."

Dr. Richard Goode, a professor of history at Lipscomb University, came up with the Life program.

"This says I'm redeemed," said Donna McCoy, a prison inmate. "It says I'm restored and I'm forgiven and I love it."

McCoy has been serving a life sentence for murder. She said she doesn't deserve a degree.

"I did the work, but I didn't earn entrance into this," said McCoy. "I was an offender of society and the law and David Lipscomb said she's not someone we should throw away."

Kidder-Hill has also been serving time for murder. She won't be able to leave until 2052.

"They might be here for a long time and yet there are a lot of women who come thru here and they can be inspirational mentors," said Dr. Goode.

Even though they have been pressed down by life, Kidder-Hill said they now have purpose and a new vision for the future.

"There is nothing in life that can happen to you that you can't be redeemed from ever," she said. "You just have to believe that you can be and if you believe that you can be you will be."

The Life Program now serves 37 women at the Tennessee Prison for Women. According to statistics, inmates who earned a degree in prison have a lower return rate.

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