Nearly three months ago state budget woes threatened a program designed to keep nearly 100 local women out of prison. But this week 82 women — all non-violent offenders — are celebrating the completion of educational, professional and life skills programs that bring them closer to becoming successful members of the community.
Trina Vaughn, a 36-year-old grandmother, is among those women. She will receive her GED at Thursday’s ceremony.
Vaughn ran away from home at 14 and dropped out of school. She had her first child a year later. By the time she was 21 she had four children. Vaughn began attending night school when she was 23. She worked days and went to school at night, but then was convicted of drug trafficking and went to prison for three years.
Vaughn signed up for GED classes as soon as she began her prison sentence in February 2011. At the Bradenton Bridge, Vaughn’s teacher and tutors have kept her focused, encouraging her and helping her believe the GED was a possible.
Through her Bridge classes, Vaughn realized she wants to be a photographer and now believes her dreams can come true. Her children, now ages 20, 19, 18 and 14, are proud of their mother and are following her positive example – the 20- and 18-year-olds earned their high school diplomas, and the oldest is now in college.
Vaughn will now complete a transition program and then move into work release, learning skills and earning money that will help her when she is released next May.
Of the 82 women being recognized Thursday morning, three completed their GEDs, 35 completed a computer proficiency course, 14 completed the 1,000-hour American Culinary Federation© Culinary Fundamentals course, 13 completed ServSafe Food Handler Certification, and 17 completed 380 hours of classes in family development, victim awareness, anger management, criminal thinking/thinking errors, addiction education, budgeting, employment re-entry skills.
Thurday's completion ceremony begins at 11 a.m. at the Bradenton Bridge, 2104 63rd Ave. East. The completion ceremony almost didn't happen. The Department of Corrections earlier this year announced plans to shut down the Bradenton Bridge facility until community and legislative support helped keep the program open.
“We are so thrilled at the progress these women have made to turn their lives around and delighted that we’re still here to help them do it,” said Lori Brown, CEO of Bridges of America. “Our goal is to help these women gain the professional and life skills they need to ensure that they never return to prison.”
The Bradenton Bridge began in July 2005 as part of Bridges of America, a non-profit corporation working in partnership with the Florida Department of Corrections to rehabilitate prisoners and reduce recidivism. The Bridge provides intensive substance abuse counseling and life skills classes.
The Bradenton Bridge program works with 120 female inmates to get their lives on track through rigorous educational programs, life skills and drug and alcohol treatment. Statistics have shown that a combination of education and recovery programs during and after release reduces the chance of returning to prison by 30 percent.