MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. -- Students behind bars were lauded for their academic accomplishments at the Sprain Brook Academy at the Westchester County Jail
Four students graduated from the SWBOCES Sprain Brook Academy and others completed the Westchester County Department of Correction’s Young Offender Program.
The students were commended for their drive to succeed despite the stress of living behind bars, learning in a confined environment and the circumstances that had led to their incarceration.
The prison’s Young Offender Program is a 60-day military-style boot camp for boys ages 16-21.
“There was a lot of opportunity for structure, guidance and consistency in this boot camp,” Director of Programs and Staff Development Nory Padilla said to the boys at the graduation. “I am very proud of what each and every one of you has accomplished.”
The 16-hour-a-day regimen of physical exercise, classes and individual counseling is intended to give incarcerated youth a chance to turn their lives around through discipline and determination.
August class graduates included Tamira Glover and Bernizon Moronta, who both received Regents diplomas; Tyriek Kerr, who earned a high school diploma; and Bernard Neely, who earned a high school equivalency diploma.
Incarcerated youth who attend the BOCES program receive English language literacy for non-readers, instruction in various high school academic subjects, preparation for the high school equivalency examination, and life skills and career development, all intended to help them transform their lives and transition to the outside world.
Keynote speaker Felipe Lopez, a retired professional basketball player from the Dominican Republican, urged the young men and women to work hard, hold on to their dreams and then make those dreams a reality.
“Education is the reason I am standing in front of you today,” said Lopez, who frequently counsels disadvantaged youth in the South Bronx.
Lopez, who was drafted to the NBA in 1998, talked about his love of basketball and his yearning to be a leader and to make a difference in his community. “I came here without friends and without speaking one word of English, and I struggled with it,” he said. “There were times when I wanted to quit, but accomplishing anything of importance takes sacrifice.
“I believed in myself and I refused to let other people’s perceptions affect my self-worth,” Lopez said.