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North Fork inmates earn college degree through unique prison partnership

Thursday, June 25, 2020

SAYRE, Okla. – An education gives wings to the mind. And the students at this school are soaring beyond anyone’s imagination. 

Western Oklahoma State President, Chad Wiginton said, “When I read these essays, honestly I thought they were professionally written. I began to dig deep and see who these essays were from. I was blown away.” 

Those essays were all written by North Fork Correctional Center inmates. Each is earning a degree from Western Oklahoma State College. 

“This is the most positive use of my day that I can find. I would much rather be here and engage my mind on something positive because knowledge is mine to keep,” Student, Doug Ashworth said.

Casey Podoll is an English and speech instructor at the college. She was initially reluctant to teach prisoners. 

“I was hesitant to teach the inmates when I started working at the college just because of my own faulty preconceived ideas," Podoll said.    

She quickly discovered the North Fork inmates were not only eager to learn, but were exceptional students.    

Administrators were so impressed with their work, they decided to record their introspective essays to share with the world. A production team is creating a video montage of the students to post on YouTube. 

“We wanted them to have something for them to be proud of. Even if it’s just a YouTube link that they can take forever and say I was apart of something bigger than myself,” According to Podoll. 

Education is the passport to the future. A degree may one day be their ticket to a better life beyond the confines of prison. 

“ Every time I leave North Fork I am the one who receives the blessing,” Wiginton said. “I look at these men and see we what they’re doing in regards to a college education is giving them hope. Our purpose is to give them a hope and give them a future.”  

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