Steamboat Springs 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 mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland
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