To an inmate serving a long sentence, earning a GED can be a life-changing achievement.
Many men in South Carolina’s correctional institutions, however, are nowhere near that dream because they can’t even read or do math at an eighth grade level.
Volunteers with Hope for Literacy, a new interdenominational ministry, hope to change that for some inmates at Lieber Correctional Institute, a maximum security facility in Ridgeville.
Their goal is to help inmates bring their math and language skills up to a level that they can begin studies for the GED.
Statistics show that of 1,400 inmates at Lieber, more than 500 can’t test to an eighth grade level, according to Nancy Bloodgood, a Charleston volunteer and organizer with Hope for Literacy.
“Some of these men read and do math at the first and second grade levels,” Bloodgood said. “Those who get into the state’s GED program tend to do better than other inmates, but they can’t do that if they can’t pass the tests. This is just something that is really, really needed. It will give them something to look forward to, and something important to do.”
The program currently has seven volunteers from Catholic, Protestant and nondenominational churches who hope to begin classes with inmates in Lieber’s Character and Faith dormitories by the second week of May. Members of Kairos, another interdenominational prison ministry, have already tested the potential students so the new teachers will know where to begin, Bloodgood said.
Sister Carol Gnau, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, has visited Lieber to conduct prayer services and distribute Holy Communion for more than 40 years. She is the pastoral associate at St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville, and spent many years as a teacher and principal. She was immediately interested when Hope for Literacy organizers asked her to volunteer.
“Many times when inmates at Lieber are asked to help with Scripture readings, they either struggle or will be reluctant to volunteer,” she said. “I believe this ministry can help them feel better about themselves, and be better prepared to re-enter the outside world if that happens for them.”
To make the classes a reality, the ministry raised about $6,000 to buy math and language workbooks for kindergarten through eighth grade.
Bloodgood spread the word about the ministry and the need to raise money at her parish, St. Clare of Assisi on Daniel Island, which has an active prison ministry program at Lieber. The response has been remarkable, she said.
Those interested in volunteering with Hope for Literacy or learning more about the ministry should email Bloodgood at firstname.lastname@example.org.