April 24 was a meaningful day inside the walls of the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Twenty-seven inmates were honored in a commencement ceremony, 18 were rewarded for passing their High School Equivalency Test, eight completed apprenticeships and there was one college graduate.

Tracy Dietsch, associate warden of treatment at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, gave the commencement speech at the ceremony and told the graduates that the ceremony was not the end of their learning opportunities, encouraging them to think about what was next for them.

For Jeff Sawvel, the completion of his HISET exam marked the end of a 21-year journey. The completion of the exam came on his third attempt to pass, with his struggles in math being his largest obstacle. His success finally coming he credits largely to the support he got from the staff when he felt frustrated, like the goal wasn’t one he could achieve.

“For years, I thought society gave up on me. Ever since I came here, I’ve been shown different,” he said.

The four graduates in attendance represented two different apprenticeships. The first was a housekeeping apprenticeship, which required 2,000 hours to complete, and 6,000 hours were required for the computer operator apprenticeship

“Growth and success can happen in prison, and you guys are proof of that,” Amber Connolly, apprenticeship sponsor, told the graduates.

Robert Nash, a housekeeping graduate, was one of the graduates to speak. He was hesitant initially but figured it was a way to show his appreciation.

“Just because I’m locked up, doesn’t mean my ability to grow has to be locked up as well,” he said.

He ended his speech with a poem he wrote for the occasion entitled, “Preparation.”

William Scott celebrated his graduation from the computer operator apprenticeship. Scott took on the apprenticeship to better help him in his role as a braille transcriber, for which he is certified by the Library of Congress since “the tools of my trade is the computer.” By completing the apprenticeship, he’s become more aware of how the systems and programs work.

“The hard work paid off, and it’s really going to benefit me down the road,” Scott said of his graduation.

Ronald May was the lone college graduate, earning his bachelor of arts from Simpson College in natural sciences, with plans to perhaps further his education.

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