Huntsville Center featured on Houston Public Media’s ‘Houston Matters’

Award-winning public affairs show highlighted center’s 51-year history in prison education

Grandon Warren, Krista Gehring, and Donna Zuniga
Lee College Huntsville Center Dean Donna Zuniga (right) and Transition Specialist Brandon Warren (left) appeared July 27, 2017, on Houston Public Media’s “Houston Matters” radio show to discuss the effort to provide Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates the opportunity to earn college credits while still behind bars. Krista Gehring (center), a criminal justice faculty member at the University of Houston – Downtown, was also part of the panel. The Huntsville Center is one of the oldest and largest correctional education programs in the country and graduated nearly 200 students in June, the most in its 51-year history.

BAYTOWN, TX — The Lee College Huntsville Center, one of the oldest and largest correctional education programs in the country, was recently featured on “Houston Matters,” an award-winning public affairs radio show that airs weekdays on Houston Public Media and explores people, places, issues and ideas unique to the city and region.

Huntsville Center Dean Donna Zuniga and Transition Specialist Brandon Warren joined “Houston Matters” host Craig Cohen on July 27 to discuss prison education and the effort to provide offenders incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) the opportunity to earn college credit while still behind bars. The Huntsville Center offers associate degree and certificate programs in academic and technical fields to a growing enrollment of more than 1,200 students across six TDCJ units.

In June, the Huntsville Center celebrated the graduation of nearly 200 students – the largest class in the program’s 51-year history. Recidivism data show that offenders who receive education while in prison are significantly less likely to return upon release; in fact, more than 90 percent of Lee College graduates never return to prison after re-integrating into society.

To listen to Zuniga and Warren’s full interview on “Houston Matters,” visit www.houstonpublicmedia.org.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee College Huntsville Center celebrates largest graduating class in 51-year history


Lee College graduation at Wynne Unit in Huntsville, TX, 06-10-17
More than 180 offenders incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) received associate degrees Saturday, June 10, 2017, at the Lee College Huntsville Center commencement. The ceremony took place inside the Wynne Unit prison in Huntsville. It was the largest graduating class in 51 years. The Huntsville Center is one of the oldest and biggest correctional education programs in the United States, with a growing enrollment of more than 1,200 students at six TDCJ prison units.

Nearly 200 incarcerated by Texas Department of Criminal Justice earn associate degrees

HUNTSVILLE, TX — As he embraced his wife and his mother after receiving his Associate of Applied Science degree from the Lee College Huntsville Center, Quincy Moore, Sr., struggled to describe what it meant to be one of more than 180 graduates honored at the commencement ceremony inside the chapel of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Wynne Unit prison.

The Class of 2017 is the largest in the 51-year history of the Huntsville Center, one of the biggest and oldest correctional education programs in the United States. The center offers associate degrees and certificate programs in technical and academic fields to a growing enrollment of more than 1,200 students across six TDCJ units.

“There’s not an adjective to properly explain how I feel with my family being here with me, as well as this accomplishment that I made,” said Moore, who majored in horticulture and earned cum laude honors. After completing 16 years behind bars, he looks forward to freedom and using his degree to provide for his family and set a more positive example for his youngest son, Quincy Jr.

“Scooter (Langley) was a great instructor who taught me how to till soil and plant seeds, but I also cultivated my mind,” Moore said. “Education broadens your mind and offers you different opportunities. It exposes you to different things, and it has changed me for the better.”

Lee College Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown praised the Huntsville students — dressed in traditional black robes and mortarboards over their white TDCJ uniforms — for pursuing education and taking steps to become fully employed and productive citizens upon release. Recidivism data show that offenders who receive education while in prison are significantly less likely to return, he said.

“The curriculum is strenuous, rigorous and challenging, and they have achieved a major milestone in their lives,” Brown said. “We are so proud to have them leave here today, go out into the world and represent us as Lee College graduates.”

Before the graduates were called to the front of the chapel to receive their degrees, commencement speaker Terrell Blount reminded them to remember that life unfolds in phases both good and bad. The key to getting over the inevitable bumps in the road is being resilient and focused on the greater goal: leaving prison walls and never coming back. Completing a Lee College education is a way to truly prepare for that eventual release, rather than just biding time by waiting to go home, he said.

“When you’re hit with something, do not simply get up; you rise to the occasion and above the critics who say you don’t deserve a second chance or a third chance,” said Blount, himself a former offender who now serves as a program associate for the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City. “Rise because every morning leads to a new day. Rise because when you’re released, you’re not an ex-inmate or an ex-convict. You’re a person who serves a purpose on the planet, ascending to new levels.”

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

LCHC looking for adjuncts to teach courses part-time

Job fair on Oct. 27 to find instructors for multiple disciplines in Huntsville & Navasota units

HUNTSVILLE, TX – With a growing enrollment of more than 1,200 incarcerated students pursuing associate degrees and certificates, the Lee College Huntsville Center is looking for new adjunct faculty to teach classes part-time at Texas Department of Criminal Justice units in both Huntsville and Navasota.

Potential instructors are invited to attend the Huntsville Job Fair to be held from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Lee College Huntsville Center office, located at 168-C Col. Etheredge Blvd. Participants should bring their resumes to the fair to provide to human resources staff and current faculty, who will be available to answer questions and share insights from their own experiences in the classroom.

One of the oldest and largest prison education programs in the United States, the Lee College Huntsville Center needs adjunct instructors for a variety of fields, including: business management, biology, geology, natural sciences, developmental English and writing, development math, standard math, speech and art. Adjuncts will be assigned to teach students at the Eastham, Ellis, Estelle, Ferguson, Holliday, Huntsville and Wynne units in Huntsville, as well as the Luther and Pack units in Navasota.

Adjuncts who teach academic courses must have a master’s degree and 18 graduate hours in the discipline being taught. The positions are especially ideal for retired educators and professionals who want to continue using their skills and expertise to make a difference in their community. Data has shown that inmates who complete two years of college behind bars are significantly less likely to return to prison.

“It’s a good experience to see someone turn their life around through education,” said Ray Wright, a retired high school math teacher and administrator who has served as an adjunct instructor for the Lee College Huntsville Center for the last 7 years. “These students have excelled beyond my expectations; they are well-behaved and hungry for information, and they really want to be there. Education can help them get employment when they leave prison and be successful – something many of them have never been.”

For more information about working as an adjunct instructor with the Lee College Huntsville Center or the upcoming Huntsville Job Fair, contact the Office of Human Resources at 281.425.6875 or hr@lee.edu.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee prison debaters best Texas A&M at first-ever competition behind bars

Inmates beat Aggies in 3-2 vote at George Beto Invitational Debate inside Huntsville Unit

LCHC-A&M debate
Lee College Huntsville Center inmate debaters Troy Thoele, far left, and Craig Caudill, near left, accept the first-place and winners’ plaques from their coaches Jeremy Coffman and Adam Key as Texas A&M debaters Michael Buse, right, and Anthony Nguyen, far right, offer congratulatory applause. The first-ever George Beto Invitational Debate, held Friday, Oct. 7, inside the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison, pitted the college’s inmate debate team against the team from Texas A&M.

HUNTSVILLE, TX — As they sat inside the chapel of the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison awaiting the start of the first-ever George Beto Invitational Debate, the inmate debaters from the Lee College Huntsville Center considered the long odds they faced — incarcerated convicts with few academic credentials and limited access to news and information about the outside world, competing against the award-winning debate team from Texas A&M University.

But after both teams had laid out their cases for and against the resolution that Donald Trump’s Achilles’ heel is foreign policy, it was the inmates who defeated the Aggies in a 3-2 decision. To Craig Caudill and Troy Thoele, who debated for Lee College, the victory was reminiscent of David’s triumph over Goliath.

“I feel like I just made parole,” Caudill joked when Lee College was announced the winner and the entire chapel — inmates, wardens and correctional officers, spectators and even the students and coaches from Texas A&M — burst into enthusiastic applause.

“I’m a little overwhelmed. The level of intellect the team from Texas A&M had was amazing,” Caudill said. “Nobody expected us to win. But just because we’re in prison, it doesn’t mean we haven’t tried to change or don’t want to change. Debate has given us better cognitive thinking skills that we can use to function in a free world setting.”

For six months, the Lee College team trained as often as they could within the confines of their strict prison schedule: huddling together on the yard to sharpen their arguments, squeezing in extra practice during study hall in the unit’s education area and even facing off against coaches Adam Key and Jeremy Coffman, champion debaters themselves with nearly a dozen national titles between them.

“Eight years I’ve coached and this is about as proud as I’ve ever been,” said Key, a Texas A&M doctoral student and full-time speech instructor for the Lee College Huntsville Center who began recruiting students for the inmate debate team just one year ago. “I’ve never seen a group of debaters this motivated. They’ve picked up in a couple of months what others take years to learn.”

LCHC-A&M debate
Lee College Huntsville Center inmate debaters Troy Thoele, left, and Craig Caudill, right, argue their case at the first-ever George Beto Invitational Debate, held Friday, Oct. 7, inside the chapel at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison. The inmate debate team bested the speech and debate team from Texas A&M University in a 3-2 decision.

To ensure an even playing field for competition, neither team was given advance knowledge of the resolution to be debated. After narrowing down their topic from a list of five options, the teams were provided the same research materials and 30 minutes to prepare their cases before taking to the podium. Caudill and Thoele gathered in the back of the chapel with their teammates and coaches, scanning newspaper articles for information and bouncing ideas and potential angles around the group.

Lee College built their argument around Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican presidential ticket despite his controversial remarks, his unstable foreign policy approach that could jeopardize America’s relationships with other countries and inability to be a strong and respected leader. Michael Buse and Anthony Nguyen of Texas A&M argued that Trump’s primary weakness is actually his temperament, which has caused him to speak and behave in a way that has alienated women and minority voters and made him less likely to accept counsel from advisers.

A panel of five judges — Hassan Assad, a professional wrestler better known by the moniker “MVP;” Jason Bay, pastor of First Baptist Church Huntsville; Dessie Cherry, a former warden and retiree from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Allen Hightower, a former Texas legislator; and Raymond Middleton, a volunteer chaplain at the Walls Unit — ultimately decided the inmate debaters had best proved their case.

“The ability to be an effective communicator is key to your success in life,” said Assad, who was just 16 when he was sent to prison in Florida and served more than 9 years before being released. “People are going to judge you by the fact that you’re a convicted felon, but you have the opportunity to disarm them with your words.”

LCHC-A&M Debate
Hassan Assad, a professional wrestler better known as MVP, congratulates the Lee College Huntsville Center inmate debate team after their defeat of Texas A&M University at the first-ever George Beto Invitational Debate held Friday, Oct. 7, inside the chapel at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison. A convicted felon who served more than 9 years in the Florida prison system, Assad returned behind bars to judge the debate competition and encourage team members to continue pursuing opportunities to better themselves before release.

Though Caudill and Thoele were the only ones to take the debate stage, both described the Lee College victory as a group effort. The help of their teammates and coaches was invaluable, and Senior Warden James Jones and Assistant Warden Matt Dobbins of the Walls Unit were instrumental in making the debate program a reality behind bars. Even their fellow inmates throughout the prison were excited about the debate and offered the team words of encouragement and best wishes, they said.

“I’m proud of everybody,” said Thoele, one of more than 1,200 incarcerated students pursuing associate degrees and certificates through the Lee College Huntsville Center. “The entire unit supported us. Debating and taking college classes made me a role model and an example for other guys. I hope this motivates them to do something to better themselves.”
 
Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.