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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Inmates reach academic goals

Friday, June 12, 2009

This past week, about 200 Putnamville Correctional Facility inmates received degrees, diplomas or certificates after completing courses of study at the prison. Graduates included, from left, Eddie Perez, who earned a general equivalency diploma; Tommie Lyles, who earned an associate's degree in AutoCAD; Brian Butler, who graduated magna cum laude from Indiana State University with a bachelor's degree in liberal studies; and Adam Gaunt, who received a certificate in horticulture.
In February 2004, Brian Butler was -- by his own admission -- "a drugged out, gun toting freak."

Those attributes led to Butler being sent to prison.

But today, instead of just being a 46-year-old man with a felony record, he is a college graduate -- a magna cum laude college graduate.

"It wasn't easy," he said. "Every guy who does this and does it with integrity deserves a hats-off."

About 200 of Putnamville Correctional Facility's more than 2,400 inmates received degrees, diplomas or certificates this past week during the prison's annual graduation ceremonies. Butler was one of 53 inmates to receive his college degree this past week -- he earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies from Indiana State University.

Butler was sent to prison after being convicted of dealing in methamphetamine, carjacking and auto theft.

"I had no idea this was possible," Butler said. "When I first arrived at prison, there was nothing you could do but work in the kitchen. "As soon as this was available, I signed up. It's been a miracle in and of itself."

Butler would like to continue his education with a master's degree. He has consider career paths such as psychology and addiction counseling.

"But I'll dig ditches, flip burgers or do whatever I have to do to stay out of prison," he said.

Butler said he has had drug problems on and off for about 20 years, and that he has been alcoholic for longer than that. While in prison, he has delved into Christian principle-based recovery programs, which he believes will keep him clean on the outside.

Butler is set to be released from prison on July 16. He plans to relocate to Peoria, Ill., where one of his three children lives.

With his recovery and education both on track, Butler now considers having been sent to prison almost a stroke of luck.

"I feel better and have been happier the last five years than I ever have been, and I've been in prison," he said. "Isn't that crazy?"

Twenty-four-year-old Tommie Lyles of Indianapolis has been a Putnamville inmate for four-and-a-half years.

Lyles had graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to college when he was sent to prison.

Even though his goal of earning a college degree was postponed a bit, he has achieved it -- he graduated Thursday with a degree in AutoCAD from Ivy Tech Community College.

AutoCAD is a computer aided design software application for two-dimensional or three-dimensional design and drafting. Lyles took classes for five semesters.

"I kind of like animated movies," Lyles said. "That's how I got interested in AutoCAD."

Lyles knows he may face a tough road in getting a job with a felony on his record. He is serving time for armed robbery, and is slated for release from prison on July 24.

"I'm always going to have that stereotype," he said. "But my instructors have told me that not a lot of people can do what I can do, so if I'm willing to really work and really do the job people will probably be willing to help me out. I guess I'm going to find out if that's true."

Lyles' parents, who still live in the Indianapolis area, attended their son's graduation ceremony.

"Having a degree makes me feel good," Lyles said. "I like going to class. I want to go on to Indiana State and get my bachelor's degree."

When Eddie Perez, 23, was convicted in Marion County on seven separate felony counts of burglary and theft in April 2007, he had no idea going to prison would mean getting an education.

He came to prison addicted to prescription drugs and ecstasy.

But last week, Perez was one of several inmates to receive his general equivalency diploma (GED) at this year's graduation ceremony at Putnamville.

Perez has been serving time for two years. His earliest possible release date stands right now at 2017.

Still, Perez has goals for himself.

"I'm definitely going to college," he said with determination.

Perez plans on pursuing a degree in hotel or restaurant management. His focus on making something of himself is due in large part to his dedication to his 2 1/2-year-old daughter and doing right by her.

"She's the first thing in my life now," he said.

Perez's parents have also been a great source of support for him.

"My parents have been with me through this whole thing," he said. "I thought I had friends out there, but it turned out my family was all I had."

Perez plans on walking out of prison -- and into the workforce -- with his head held high.

"We're just trying to get our second chance in society," he said. "I'm confident. I have all the confidence in the world."

Adam Gaunt, 34, was sent to Putnamville Correctional Facility in 2006 after being convicted in Allen County on a felony battery charge. He had never been incarcerated before.

"I was drunk, the other guy was drunk, and it just got out of control," he said.

This past week, Gaunt was awarded a certificate in horticulture after completing a course of study at the prison.

"At first, I signed up because I was told people in the horticulture program got to go work outside the fence," Gaunt admitted.

Inmates convicted of Class A or Class B felonies are not allowed to go outside the prison fence. With his Class C conviction Gaunt thought he would be fine.

As it turned out, inmates charged with a certain Class C felony also can't go outside the fence.

"If you have a Class C felony you can't," Gaunt said. "And that's what I have."

Despite his initial disappointment, Gaunt stuck with the horticulture program, working on projects within the prison grounds.

"I ended up having a great time," he said. "At graduation, my grandmother went up to my teacher to tell her she'd been growing tomatoes for 20 years, and I was able to give her advice to make them better."

Presently, Gaunt is also working toward an Indiana State University degree in liberal arts, with a concentration on human interaction

"I never would have even thought that would be something I would pursue," Gaunt said.

Gaunt, whose out date is in early 2012, knows there are those that have a problem with inmates receiving free college educations.

"Look at it this way," he said. "It costs $30,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate. It costs $4,900 for me to get a college education. Recidivism goes down from 50 percent for inmates who don't get an education to 5 percent for those who do. I've done essays and speeches on that very topic."

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Mr.Butler also voluteered for the From the Horses Mouth program. My son and I met Mr. Butler one night when we had to attend.I believe he and the others all made a positive impact on my son who stated afterwards, "I never want to go back there again." He was taking a college exam that evening.I believe Mr. Butler and others like him can make a positive contribution to society if given the chance.

-- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 6:10 AM


I agree with you to a certain point, as a college student who has 3 children to support I admit it is tough, so to that point I do agree.

If these inmates dont get in education while they are in prison, then we will just be supporting them when they go back, I guess I would rather help them get a college education and allow them the chance to become respectable citzens then gripe about it, and them not get the education and end up back in prison. Either way us taxpayers end up paying, which would you prefer to pay for someone to better their life or to sit behind bars? Congrats to those inmates that want a different life when they come out.

-- Posted by shell81 on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 9:28 AM

yeah, this is great! And I couldn't go to college because my parents could not afford it. We are struggling to send our daughter to college. (second year at usi) and yet these people commit serious crimes and get a degree without the loan payments after they graduate! Something is definitely WRONG with this picture. I tried to be nice in this commentary but this crap just makes me SICK!

-- Posted by mike andrews on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 9:31 AM

The last paragraph of the story sums it up case and point. It is worth for the inmates and society to say the least.

-- Posted by Harmony Church on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 10:26 AM

I am all for people getting an education. Congratulations to these people. BUT, I struggle with the fact that the rest of us who try to do things right, cannot afford to send our children to college, must still foot the bill for those who chose to go down the wrong path and now get a free ride to a degree. SOmething is wrong with this scene. If convicted people can earn a degree for FREE, why not grant a FREE degree to a deserving student in return?

I wish these gentlemen well and, again, congratulate them for their positive accomplishments.

-- Posted by cvilleguy on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 12:43 PM

I agree that inmates need help to better themselves so as to not end up back in trouble with society. But is it fair or even viable to make everyone else pay so much for college and on top of that also have to pay taxes so others can go to college for free? There has to be a better way. What ever happened to the state farm actually being a farm? All I ever see them doing is mowing grass around all those brick houses. In other states, they use the inmates for the betterment of the whole community or state and not just there own little areas. Why can't less dangerous inmates clean up the highways and county roads, do work for the county seniors who can't work on their own homes, why not put the humane society there and let them help out with the dogs and cats? There is so much that they could do to help earn a living to pay for their own college costs or at least some of them. Make and sell furniture is another one.

If only criminals get a better education at a "reasonable" price then people are liable to have to turn to that in this economy!!

-- Posted by citizen24 on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 2:14 PM

I guess you help your child plan ahead to get in enough trouble to get enough time with DOC to get their degree free.Then all the parent has to do is send their child enough money for commissary. Free rent-free 3 meals a day and free education. A lot cheaper for the parents that would struggle otherwise.

-- Posted by bam on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 6:14 PM

I think this is great! All of us should ultimately want these people to be reformed into productive citizens in our society. These college loans do have to be repayed in most cases. I am happy to see these men make such positive changes in their lives.

-- Posted by justsay on Sat, Jun 13, 2009, at 11:27 PM

These men only did this because it was handed to them though some program from the prison in which we pay for. They should make a stipulation on each of these graduates, they pay society back by paying the money for their education or go into the army and serve for 4 years. Make them really earn thier degree!!!

-- Posted by 1stamendrights on Sun, Jun 14, 2009, at 11:52 AM

It's so sad that Putnam county is so full of small minded,ignorant people.

-- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Sun, Jun 14, 2009, at 1:27 PM

I would rather help pay for them to get an education and do something productive rather than having to pay for their return and stay in prison!! Good job guys!!

And good job Jamie for writing about something good for a change.

-- Posted by guesswhonow on Sun, Jun 14, 2009, at 9:47 PM

Sure......and there are those who should be careful while standing on their soapboxes and downgrading those who are paying for mistakes made and really trying to better themselves.

-- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 8:26 AM

I work at PCF. I need 50 more hours to obtain a BS from ISU. I can't afford to go. Could someone help me financially? I could commit a felony, I suppose and get it, but I'd rather not.

-- Posted by Dagnabbit on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 9:36 AM

Don't be so hard on yourself citzenoftheworld. Keep fighting little man keep fighting!

-- Posted by 1stamendrights on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 10:04 AM

Whatever.....I do not consider myself a bleedingheart. I think people who commit crimes should pay deal with consequences but we cannot keep locked up forever. Why not try to make them productive citizens? As far as the methond of payments for their education...if you have a problem with it write your congressman instead of whining about it in the paper. IF YOU DON'T AGREE WITH SOME PRACTICE OR WHATEVER THEN IT'S UPTO YOU TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

There is money out there education..scholarships,grants,loans,employers often pay for tuition reimbursement.I know first hand how hard it is to pay for college.I have student loans just like everyone esle but I am not gonna bitter towards anyone esle over it.

-- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 10:59 AM

What I see here are comments concerning the value of education, but fail to fully deal with the concept of working for what you get. We don't make them accountable for their actions, we give them an education and we give them time cuts and we give them clothes and food and they don't have to lift a finger for any of it. Don't you think if they had to spend some of their own money that it would mean more to them? Citizenoftheworld you said that you had to work and take out student loans that you are still paying for. Doesn't it mean more to you that you earned your education while working to pay for it? Most of the inmates use this as a way of getting their sentence shortened instead of getting an education for educations sake. If they wanted the schooling that badly they would have worked on the outside to get it.

-- Posted by eab on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 12:24 PM

Way to go and well said eab and smaller_gov_now!! Some people may not know but the prisons also have cable tv, which I am sure is paid for by taxpayers. I agree that if they want to pay for "special" services, that's fine, but we as a society should not have to pay for these perks. They are there to pay a debt to society, not the other way around. It just sickens me to see what they get for free while hard-working, law abiding citizens struggle to feed their families, pay their mortgages and just basic utilities, let alone if they are fortunate enough to even have cable. Change needs to happen! Prison reform needs to happen. Some of them have it better in prison than they did on the outside.

-- Posted by NotSoInnocent on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 4:44 PM


The State Constitution states the penal code shall be founded on the principles of reformation, and not of vindictive justice. The Department is required to provide medical and dental services to inmates as well as access to law libraries and educational programs. However, if an inmate wants to pursue post secondary education, the cost is the inmate's responsibility. Idle prisoners would require more supervision and could be a threat to the security of the facility. Therefore, it is important to not only provide programming and employment to the inmates, but allow them recreational time as well. It should be noted that most of the inmates currently incarcerated will be returning to society, and hopefully will be prepared when they do so.

-- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 5:18 PM

COTW, that may be from the DOC, but from the inmate himself:

"Gaunt, whose out date is in early 2012, knows there are those that have a problem with inmates receiving free college educations."

I would think he would know better than anyone if HE paid for his education, especially with his new college degree.

-- Posted by NotSoInnocent on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 7:57 PM

The point is/was, if you care to hear it, that not all inmates are receiving a free education.But hey let's just continue to argue the point and deny all inmates anything but the basic neccessities(and keep those to the minimum)...give them no means of becoming productive people and then turn them loose on society. Maybe one of them will be your neighbor...this is becoming quite boring.

It is a very good positve story for those who choose to see it as being that way.

-- Posted by citizenoftheworld on Mon, Jun 15, 2009, at 8:28 PM

What a waist of tax dollars. Thier are children in high school with a clean criminal slate who deserve to further their education then these clowns!

-- Posted by 1stamendrights on Tue, Jun 16, 2009, at 11:33 AM

Yes, this is positive but it upsets me! So I guess my husband is paying for their education along with paying for mine out of our pockets! I would like to see if these guys use their education after they get out or if they end up right back in the system. You know what they should do is when they get back on their feet and out of prison is have to pay it back.

-- Posted by ProudWifeOfASoldier on Tue, Jun 16, 2009, at 1:44 PM

Just wanted the folks for and against higher education in the prison system to know that I am a success story. The education I earned, through FAFSA funding, has enabled me to become a Case Manager at The Salvation Army in Peoria, Illinois. I work with the homeless population; helping them to get back on their feet and become productive members of society. I also work with many men and women who have been in prison and I try very hard to encourage them that they can improve their lives through hard work and determination. Yes, I and they have made mistakes in the past. We all have. However, everyone deserves a chance to have a life after they have paid their price to society. Education is vital in keeping people out of prison. Education for a person in prison is vital to keep them from going back. We can't change people's hearts. But, if we can change people's minds then we can work on those same hearts. God bless you all.

-- Posted by brianlbutler on Thu, Feb 13, 2014, at 4:37 PM

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