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TCF Graduates First Class of Computer Programming, Coding Students

by Rebecca Witte last modified Feb 24, 2020 11:35 AM
This week, the first class of computer programming and coding students will graduate at Topeka Correctional Facility.

The first twelve women to go through a new computer programming and coding program at Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) will celebrate with family members and staff at a graduation ceremony on Friday, Feb. 28.

Some of these women will be returning home within the next few months while others will be calling TCF home for many more years. All of them, however, see coding as a fresh start, especially when they had no prior experience in the technology field.

“I had never touched a computer,” Rebecca Beach, 42, said. “I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to learn it but I’ve been here 20 years and I’m not at all familiar with recent technology.”

“A real fear for me is I’m going to be 42 years old (when released), out of workforce 20-plus years, I will have no Social Security credits earned, no nest egg, my children will probably have (my) grandchildren, I will have financial responsibilities,” Michelle Vorhees, 28, said. “That’s terrifying. That’s so scary to think that you’re going to be released from prison in your 40s and have nothing.”

Inmates have several opportunities while in prison to learn a skill or trade and earn wages while spending time behind bars. With the high demand for workers in the tech world, the program offered at TCF was also in high demand.

More than 60 women applied to be a part of the first class of 15 students. They had to have a clean disciplinary record for the past year and pass an essay test, a logic test and a face-to-face interview along with having either their G.E.D. or high school diploma. All of the women would say that the work they’ve put into the class has been worth it.

“The skillset that we’re being exposed to in here is invaluable,” Vorhees said. “The coding class really helped me understand what I was capable of.” 

With the first round of students completing the program, the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) decided to open a development shop within the walls of TCF. The state will employ several of the new graduated to build and develop content for state agencies.

“This program has given the ladies at TCF an amazing opportunity to learn a highly-marketable skillset that can be put to work immediately,” Jeff Zmuda, KDOC secretary, said. “For those returning home within the next few months, but also for those who will be staying with us a little longer. We are working to partner with businesses across the state to provide jobs for these ladies now.”

Zmuda says helping these women prepare to return to their communities as valued members of society is a top priority for the department. Many are feeling more confident in their ability to leave prison, and never come back, thanks to their new-found skills.

“I’m going to leave here an unstoppable force,” Vorhees said. “I’m absolutely going to be successful.”

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