MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. -- Sprain Brook Academy recently held its annual Open House inside the walls of the Westchester County Jail as a way to let others know that just because they have been in jail, doesn't mean they can't succeed in the outside world.
To hammer the point home, Michael Lopez, a former inmate, and Academy graduate, shared his story of how he when from jail to being the manager of an auto repair shop.
“Just because you messed up doesn’t mean you can’t stand up and keep going," Lopez said. "
Lopez was incarcerated at age 18 and was behind bars for four years. He was able to emerge from that chapter and make a new life thanks to the teachers and counselors of Southern Westchester BOCES, which operates the academy in partnership with the Westchester County Department of Correction.
An open house inside a jail is a new idea, Assistant Warden Randy Watkins said. “This doesn’t happen everywhere,” said Watkins, noting that the forum was a way to show families that their loved ones can receive the education they need.
“We can only offer it,” he said. “They have to come.”
The academy serves students ages 16 to 21. Entitled to a high school education, they receive a curriculum centered on transition and transformation in their lives and aligned with state standards and Regents requirements. It extends to English language literacy for non-readers, high school academics, equivalency exam preparation, life skills and career development. Transition assistance upon release is also provided in relation to housing, employment, training and higher education.
The open house offered families a rare visit to the jail in an educational rather than strictly correctional setting. It featured exhibits by teachers and counselors as well as outside agencies like Westhab and its Strive program, which provides assistance to students after their release.
“It’s not like they’re just cut loose,” said Strive case manager Kyle James. “We provide a stable environment.”
Also on hand were Southern Westchester BOCES District Superintendent Harold Coles, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services James Gratto and BOCES board members Catherine Draper and Lynn Frazer-McBride.