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Bureau of Corrections Celebrates Inaugural Transforming Lives Academy Graduation

KINGSHILL – In partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning (UVI Cell), the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections today celebrated its inaugural graduation of its “Transforming Lives Academy.”

The ceremony was held at the John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility today with staff and inmates in person and virtually via Zoom with family members, stakeholders, and the Commissioner of Education, Racquel Berry-Benjamin.

Director Testamark stated, “she was delighted and exceedingly proud of the staff efforts including the correctional instructors, custody and security staff, and program administrators for doing all necessary to create opportunities for our inmates. She further expressed that the Transforming Lives Academy is the first-ever program of this magnitude that offers inmates the opportunity to complete high school coursework and requirements and receive their High School Diploma from Penn Foster High School in a live-format graduation ceremony at the Bureau. Our organization continues to rise because of educational, technical, and strategic programs implemented using the WHY-factor, which takes the very best of positive psychology and purpose to develop remarkable results.”

Suzanne Darrow-Magras, Director of UVI Cell, led the graduation ceremony as its Mistress of Ceremony. The program included a Procession, Pomp, and Circumstance, playing of the National Anthem and the Virgin Islands March, and an invocation by BOC’s Chaplain Ludger Berkitt. Commissioner Berry-Benjamin, Guest Speaker Stephan Hyacinth (Inmate), BOC’s Construction Superintendent Anthony Wheeler, BOC’s Programs and Grants Manager, Peter Abrahams, and Rodney Miller (Inmate) offered remarks. These individuals provided all graduates with words of wisdom and positive energy in being courageous, stepping forward to accomplish educational pursuits, and becoming a trailblazer and role model for education.

The ceremony’s Guest Speaker, Stephan Hyacinth, who is one of BOC’s inmates, expressed that “individuals may develop the impression that positivity cannot come from a correctional institution,” but he urged all participants to “dispel that notion and instead Practice what you Preach and stay focused towards completing goals.” The newly Penn Foster High School Diploma graduate, Lester Roberts, celebrated his accomplishment in a prepared speech and offered his thanks and appreciation to all those persons who pushed him towards his goal, “although there were many times when I wanted to quit.” Instead, the many motivational speeches from staff and fellow inmates “kept him on track, and he indeed became successful.”

The Transforming Lives Academy graduates included the following:

Penn Foster High School

Lester Roberts

National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)

Lester Roberts, Stephan Hyacinth, Eugene Roberts, Adam Mason, Hansel Castillo, Jelani Hall, Nolan Boyd, Daryl Blyden, Winston Georges, Jr., and Richard Fahie

Money Management Course

Stephan Hyacinth, Lester Roberts, Adam Mason, Darrell Blyden, Eugene Roberts, Khalil Jafar, Jelani Hall, Stanley Rodney, Elroy Edwards, Larry Williams, Quanza Heath, Shalome Francis, Jose Rosa, Anthony Gumbs, and Richard Fahie

“BOC is committed to developing award-winning results which will raise the bar for correctional facilities around the world to emulate,” Testamark said. “Rest assured that our employees, inmates, and facilities remain our number one priority.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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