HACKENSACK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Three inmates at the Bergen County Jail received their GEDs at a graduation ceremony Wednesday.
The program is not new, but this was the first time the jail held a cap and gown ceremony.
Participants said it was an experience that can change a life forever, and Sheriff Anthony Cureton said he hopes it serves as an example for others to follow.
The incarcerated individuals are getting a second chance to improve their lives through education.
"It's always been something I wanted to do, and I guess outside I just never had the time," graduate Alexis Colon said. "But here, I have nothing but time to pursue a career, I guess you could say."
Colon wants to further his schooling and hopes for a future in construction management.
The participants take classes in the jail through a program run by Bergen Community College.
"If they hopefully leave, we don't want them back," Executive Director of Continuing Education Cinzia Diorio said. "And we know that education will help change their trajectory in society."
Students can focus on English as a second language, high school equivalency, and computer literacy. But the goal is to leave jail better than when they entered.
Family members watched the ceremony via Zoom, and Reshawn Evans, a father of four, hopes it sends a positive message to his kids.
"This is important," he said. "This is very important in life, and I'm going to see it that you get it."
The sheriff and his staff have welcomed the program as a way to reduce recidivism, and they hope it inspires other inmates to choose education over becoming repeat offenders.
"For me, if we get one, we are batting 1.000," Cureton said. "Because someone is taking that next step, and hopefully, it will redirect their life."
Bergen Community College President Dr. Eric M. Friedman also expressed his support.
"This important initiative shines a light on this often overlooked population," he said. "As they seek to better themselves, turn their lives around, and reenter society by becoming productive, active members of the county's workforce."
Submit a tip or story idea to Eyewitness News