For the past four years, retired teacher Fran Conlon, middle, has been volunteering his time to tutor Routt County Jail inmates. Sam Wisecup Jr., left, and Oswaldo Solano Ortíz were the jail’s first inmates to receive their GED diplomas.

Photo by Matt Stensland

For the past four years, retired teacher Fran Conlon, middle, has been volunteering his time to tutor Routt County Jail inmates. Sam Wisecup Jr., left, and Oswaldo Solano Ortíz were the jail’s first inmates to receive their GED diplomas.

Routt County Jail celebrates 1st GED graduates


— Routt County Jail inmate Sam Wisecup Jr. will be the first to admit that he has made some mistakes.

The 29-year-old high school dropout was an alcoholic, and on March 13, he began serving an eight-month sentence for alcohol-related driving offenses.

“It was the best thing that happened to me because I thought I was going to die,” Wisecup said. “I learned my lesson. I’m ready to be part of the community.”

To do that, Wisecup knew he needed to go back to school, and he read in the inmate handbook about the GED program offered at the jail.

“I wanted to better myself, not in just my education but life goals, as well,” Wisecup said.

He and fellow inmate Oswaldo Solano Ortíz passed the five required tests making them the jail’s first class of GED graduates.

To celebrate, Wisecup and Ortíz passed out cupcakes.

“We like to see people succeed,” Routt County Jail Lt. Michelle Richardson said.

Wisecup now wants to work toward an associate degree, and Ortíz wants to work as a roofer or a cook.

The accomplishments would not have been possible without Fran Conlon, who for the past four years has been volunteering for two hours each week to tutor inmates at the jail.

“It seems to be the right thing to do,” said Conlon, a former Soroco High School English teacher who worked in education for 34 years. “I’m a retired and recovering teacher.”

Conlon wants his students to become productive members of society, and he thinks education is the key. Each week, he would meet with the students in the law library.

“Attendance is not a problem here,” Conlon said. “They want to be here studying.”

Earlier this year, Conlon was recognized by the Sheriff’s Office for his service.

In addition to assigning homework, Conlon helped prepare the students for the tests, which they took at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs and Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig. The tests cost $22 each, and Conlon secured the funding from Holy Name Catholic Church’s Good Shepherd Fund.

Conlon also is working with an inmate who is taking a college English Class at CMC.

Richardson said the jail is not set up to allow inmates access to classes online, so Conlon brings the completed homework assignments to Colorado Mountain College for grading.

“I’m a courier back and forth,” Conlon said.

Holy Name Catholic Church also is paying for that class.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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walt jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Doesn't this seem like it's commending the criminals in jail? As if to say," look everyone at how well they are doing while in jail". Last I checked these are criminals who are incarcerated for some even serious crimes.


Carrie Requist 3 years, 5 months ago

Unless a criminal is never going to be released, it behooves society to help that person figure out how to be able to be law abiding once they are released. Earning a GED is not a freebie. These guys had to decide to do the work and for that I commend them and I think it is great that there are resources to help them.


rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

The last time I had to do an extended stretch -- several years ago, thank God (pot is the same as alcohol, to the pirates in charge) my guru brought me a fat O'Rielly TCP/IP network administration book, which killed many an hour that long cold winter... when I entered I was a poor excuse for a nerd, stuck in my microcosm of applications programming, totally igorant of networks, systems, the nuts-and-bolts of what I was doing... studied that book, cover to cover... and when I emerged, I knew how the Internet works, now fully armed to pursue my own endeavor.

A little education never hurt anybody, and no place needs it more than jail. There is no better way to invest the down time. Great job, guys!!


rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Not to stretch the point, but... if we could get RCSO accredited, we could offer degrees, undergraduate, to begin with (though I know guys who could've earned Master's Degrees by now, some of them my friends; we've already got the fraternity) and wouldn't you be proud to hang THAT diploma on your Hero Wall? We could set a new paradigm in Corrections, make ours the jail of choice. The crime rate may raise slightly, people wanting in, but that problem will fix itself, in the long run, in increased tax revenue when they get out.

The great food isn't enough of a draw, that jail is a ghost of its former self, we need to fill up that space again. What better way than a school too?

[this is facetious, Scott et al... rhetorical... no response necessary]


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

I think any free person can enroll in a GED program and receive similar assistance. So it is hardly an incentive to go to jail.

Jail does seem to be an incentive for people with drug and/or alcohol addictions as always available rehab center. And the probation typically includes urine testing which is a modest incentive to staying clean. It seems pretty easy to avoid a failed drug test.

Though, in Sam's case, if he returns to South Routt then there are plenty of people upset and remembering the circumstances of leaving a dead woman in a motel room that they will notify his parole officer of any parole violations.


jerry carlton 3 years, 5 months ago

Having worked as a corrections officer for 5 years in Washington state, I probably have spent more time in jail than anyone that reads these forums. There is no one more law and order than me. That said, these two guys still have a chance to make something out of themselves and this is a great first step. This program is little or no cost to the taxpayers and if it prevents two carreer criminals, it will save hundreds of thousands and possibly a million in tax dollars. I commend them both and expecially Fran Conlon for spending his time and money to help people who have made really poor choices in life.


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