By Adam Armour
Itawamba County Times
FULTON – “In a lot of ways, going to jail can be a good thing,” said Itawamba Learning Center volunteer Pat Thorn.
Of the 20 or so students the Fulton resident has tutored on behalf of the nonprofit adult education group, 14 of them have been Itawamba County Jail inmates. Thorn believes that, for many inmates, incarceration represents a critical junction in their lives … the tipping point in which all of the negativity that’s been pooling inside of them begins to spill out. Many might see jail as punishment; Thorn believes it’s opportunity.
“They’ve having a pause in their lives to think about where they’re going and what they’re doing,” the Fulton resident said. “Time to ask, ‘Do I want really want to spend my life in and out of jail?’”
Thorn believes the answer to that question is, “no.” With a little help, just about anyone can make up for past mistakes and get his or her life back on track.
They just need that extra push in the right direction.
In jail, Thorn’s students have more free time and fewer distractions. There’s time to set aside for both reflection and action. It’s one of the main reasons Thorn believes jail presents the perfect opportunity to better oneself. By offering to help fund the necessary materials and the Learning Center’s willingness to pay for the test itself, the only barrier preventing any inmate from earning a GED is the determination to do so.
Pretty much any inmate who wants to accept the offer of being tutored is granted permission to do so, although Thorn said not everyone who begins the program sees it through to the end. Because all of the inmates who volunteer for the program do so of their own volition, Thorn said she gets very little in the way of guff.
“I’m not easily intimidated,” Thorn said. “I’ve home-schooled two boys; there’s nothing more intimidating than that.”
When tutoring an inmate, Thorn spends six hours a week inside the jail. She furnishes the necessary books with her own funds, and tries to help her students grasp the materials on which they’ll be tested.
As the time nears for her student to take the test, she’ll ramp up both the number and length of her visits; as her students take their tests, she sits out in the lobby and waits. For hours.
Those who don’t pass are given encouragement to try again; those who do are appropriately celebrated.
“It’s exciting; it’s very exciting,” she said of one of her students graduating. There have been six of them so far. “Suddenly, they have options. I’m always eager to see how God’s going to use them.”
Thorn is no stranger to jail; she’s been volunteering for jail ministry for more than 15 years in Tupelo. She likes the work and sees it as an opportunity to spread her faith through example.
Deeply religious, Thorn’s spirituality is at the heart of her volunteerism.
“It gives me the opportunity to share my love of Jesus Christ,” she said. “It’s the most important thing in my life … When you get to fulfill your calling, it’s wonderful.”
The day before one of her students takes the high school equivalency exam, Thorn sends out blanket prayer requests to members of the Learning Center email group. Each student also gets an anonymous “mentor” … someone who will occasionally send an encouraging email to the inmate. To Thorn, this is an important part of the tutoring process and has everything to do with whether or not her students succeed during the exam and beyond.
“There’s a bigger world out there cheering them on,” Thorn said. “We want them to know that.”
It’s all a part of helping people feel better about their lives. Thorn said helping them find self is the most important lesson she can teach.
“It starts to show them that they can do something good,” she said. Often, they’ve never had that. “I’m hoping that it all builds from there.”