While Walker County children, teachers, and parents ready themselves for another school year, others in the community are flinging graduation hats into the air as they celebrate hard-earned achievements — in prison.

More than 30 graduation hats flew into the air in a packed room you will not see in a high school graduation ceremony. Yet, the achievement accomplished by these graduates was just as important to them and the prison officials tasked with their rehabilitation as a young adult’s graduation is to their proud parents, with one prison speaker during the recent July ceremony stating:

“Congratulations graduates on your landmark achievement!”

This graduation comes at a personal cost of two years of the inmate’s time and attention, according to the prison, which they could otherwise spend a myriad of other legitimate ways, even from inside their prison walls.

Instead, this graduating all-male participant group at Walker State Prison choose to spend their time in faith and character-based training instead of just marking time, lending credence to the Georgia Department of Corrections commissioner’s words:

“The Faith and Character Based Program serves as a model for positive change that allows offenders to be in an environment that promotes alternatives to criminal thinking and behavior through character development.”

Lest anyone assume this is a one-denominational faith-based program, it is not.

According to Walker State Prison: “The program operates on a holistic approach, secular in nature, which involves our stakeholders and community volunteers in the process of the offenders learning to change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.”

GDOC Commissioner Timothy C. Ward also stated: “This is another example of programming that works to ensure the successful re-entry of our returning citizens.”

Jan Morris is assistant editor for the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.