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County Jail Inmates Graduate "Life Skills" Program

Whittney Evans
Prisoner Ofa Katoa visits with his children after the graduation ceremony.

Fourteen inmates at Salt Lake County’s Oxbow jail graduated today from a program that helps them successfully transition from cell to society.

Today is the 66th commencement ceremony for inmates who’ve completed the rigorous five-week, 200- hour Life Skills program. The class takes up to 16 volunteer inmates willing to learn about things like parenting, personal health, cognitive behavior, the social impact of crime and personal finance. During the ceremony Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder spoke passionately to the graduates.

“We’re proud of you,” Winder says. “Everybody in this room is gentleman. And the way you can repay that? Don’t ever darken our door again.”

28-year-old Tommy Harrison says he’s been in and out of jail 32 times since he was 18. He was released from jail yesterday, but returned today in plain clothes to get his certificate and take part in the ceremony.

“I mean we cried,” Harrison says.  Grown men in rooms together. It was really good. I mean, I’m scared to be out but at the same time, I’ve got tools to use. Like we used to say in the class either you’re going to leave it at the door or take it with you. So far, I’m taking it with me.”

Stephanie Harrison is Tommy’s mother. She says, she can already see what the class has done for her son whom she calls talented and funny.

“He got up today and said I have a 24-hour plan. I’m like Okay! And it was great,” Harrison says. “He followed through. He exercised. He ate.”

The fourteen inmates spent time after the ceremony visiting with loved ones who came to celebrate their accomplishments. 

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