There was a celebratory mood in the Anamosa State Penitentiary’s visitor’s room as 20 inmates were celebrated for their academic achievement Nov. 26.

Eleven inmates completed their HiSET, or High School Equivalency Test, while nine completed apprenticeship requirements, helping them gain valuable work experience.

The keynote speaker for the event was the director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, Beth Skinner who talked about her educational struggles.

“I barely graduated from high school,” she said, made difficult by learning disabilities in math and reading comprehension.

Her challenges did not end there. She dropped out of college multiple times as the first member of her family to go to college and was told on more than one occasion that she was “not the college type.”

“Then I had someone that really believed in me and believed that I could do…the academic work, and that person changed my life,” she said, graduating with her Ph.D. in 2010.

The moral of the story, she said, was “you have to believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”

Skinner praised the inmates for taking the initiative to better themselves while incarcerated and said this was just the first step.

A pair of inmates, one celebrating his high school diploma, Justin Marshall, and an apprenticeship grad, Daniel King, made some brief remarks during the ceremony. Marshall thanked his instructors for helping him graduate at the age of 35.

“The experience is one I will never forget,” he said.

Kirkwood and Department of Corrections officials praised both the inmates and those in attendance to support them.

“We are proud of you,” Dr. Kim Becicka, vice president of continuing education and training services at Kirkwood Community College, told the inmates.

Warden Jeremy Larson congratulated those inmates for the completion of their requirements and thanked the family members who were able to attend and support the graduates. He emphasized the importance of ceremonies like this to the overall mission of the department.

“This is what we do. We’re here to help you guys…get some skills to help you be successful when you leave here,” he said, whether those skills be educational or work-related.

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