DAVENPORT, Iowa -- A special graduation ceremony for just one graduate was held Thursday at the Scott County Jail.
"This feels good, I like it, nice fit," said Mickeal Bloch, an inmate at the Scott County jail, as he put the blue cap and gown over his orange jumpsuit in the library room of the jail.
Just like for any graduate, graduation time was a time to both reflect back and look towards the future for this 21-year-old.
"I wanted to make this a beneficial stay," Bloch said of this time behind bars. "While I was here, I wanted to do something better for myself, so when I get out of here, I can really go somewhere in my life, and stop coming here."
He was booked into jail in March for vandalizing a car dealership and causing more than $4000 in damage. Since then, he has tried to turn his life around.
Students self-select for the high school equivalency education program. It is one of a variety of programs offered by the Scott County Sheriff's Office in partnership with dozens of community agencies and volunteers to provide education and counseling services for inmates. The goal is to help reduce recidivism. Not having an education is one of the top risk factors for incarcerated persons returning to jail, staff say.
Bloch had a lot of support, but also a lot of drive.
"Every time I passed the test, that’s what kept me motivated. Every time I passed one, I was ready and excited to pass another one. It was determination really." he said. Students must pass five tests to earn their equivalency diploma.
"It was lot of studying, a lot of tutoring, especially for math, because I hate math," he laughed, telling News 8 that one of his deck mates helped tutor him.
Bloch earned him his high school equivalency diploma in just three months.
Assistant Dean of Education and Literacy at Scott Community College, Claire Brakel Packer, made a special trip out to the jail to hand Bloch his High School Equivalency Diploma.
"We are really proud and excited, we often don’t get to see this portion," Brakel Packer said, adding that a degree was something he could take with him for the rest of his life.
"Education absolutely helps reduce recidivism rates," she said. More than that, she added: "Folks who have family-sustaining incomes, are folks who contribute to society."
Bloch also got the support of his family at home and he couldn't wait for his mother to see his diploma.
"She’s gonna be the most happy out of everybody," Bloch said.
His mother, Syretta Putman, was not allowed to attend the graduation ceremony, but she had her own good news to share with her son, having graduated from cosmetology school a day earlier.
"After his ceremony, he’s gonna call me on the phone and we’ll celebrate together," she told News 8.
For this day, the celebration was confined to the jail. Inmates lined up to congratulate Bloch as he walked into the general population area, hooting and hollering to cheer Bloch on. Popcorn was served.
"Congratulations, man," his tutor said as they embraced.
Bloch said he was proud to be able to be a positive role model for his kids and siblings.
"I can’t wait to get home and show them this, especially my younger brother because he’s going through stages in his life where he’s trying to find himself right now," he shared. "So now he’s got something to look up to instead of what I’ve been doing with my past. That feels awesome."
Programming run by the Scott County Jail are funded through revenues from the inmate commissary. The Sheriff's Office provides two program coordinators and a deputy, but otherwise relies on community partners and volunteers for staffing and materials, from books to furniture to the celebratory popcorn. The high school equivalency diploma, previously known as the GED, has been assisting 180 people earn their high school diploma at Scott County Jail since 2009.
Bloch said he plans to continue his education at a culinary school. He still has to await his pretrial conference on June 12 and sentencing.