ASHLAND -- Ashland University is making strides in correctional education as its Lantern program, run in partnership with Securus Technologies, has recently graduated its 600th incarcerated student.
Lantern, a digital learning management system, was created in 2016 and has changed the way incarcerated individuals are able to access education. Through unique technology distributed through tablets, incarcerated students are able to complete assignments, communicate with professors and ultimately earn a college degree.
According to Lantern’s website, their mission is to increase educational opportunities in prisons, increase employment opportunities for incarcerated individuals upon re-entry and reduce recidivism.
“Earning a college degree can change the trajectory of a person’s life, whether they’re incarcerated or not,” said Todd Marshall, Ph.D., Vice President for Correctional Education and Innovation at Ashland University. “We partnered with Securus because we knew the value it would bring; the fact that it has grown to this size gives us great hope for the future of the program.”
Duncan Jamieson, history professor at Ashland University, has been teaching with Securus for close to 10 years and credits part of Lantern's success to its ease of use for both instructors and students.
“I really do like Lantern,” Jamieson said. “I’ve used other learning management systems that are not, from the instructional side, as user friendly and as easy to set up. For those of us who are technologically unsophisticated, the system is very user friendly and I like that.”
While traditional schools around the country were floundering when the virus caused the lockdown back in March, classes for students using Lantern were able to proceed as normal thanks to the digital platform.
“Everything happening with classes on the Ashland University campus and getting put online was a steep learning curve, but for the prison it was seamless,” Jamieson said. “I know that their educational experience after mid-March was exactly the same after as it was before (the virus).”
In his time teaching history classes to incarcerated students over the years, Jamieson has dealt with hundreds of individuals coming through his classes.
“I’m not very good with names,” he joked.
While Jamieson didn’t realize it at the time, he did encounter one student who’s journey with him didn’t end at the completion of his history course.
Ronnie Hopkins is one of the success stories coming out of the Lantern program.
After dropping out of high school during his senior year, Hopkins struggled with drug addiction and was placed in Grafton Correctional Institution. Once behind bars, he decided to get his GED which then led him to discover the Lantern program.
“It’s literally life and death,” Hopkins said. “When you find yourself living out the consequences of your decisions and you’re in prison, there are two ways you can go: you can go better or you can go bitter.”
In Hopkins' case, he chose to go better.
“The importance of having things like Securus with this Lantern program and having that availability of education, it allows you to reprogram your mind. I was an addict and I had this victim mentality my whole life, but I created this connection with God that made me realize that I was able to succeed in my life and commit to doing something better.”
Similarly to Jamieson, Hopkins praised Lantern's ease of use. He recalled that his neighbor while in Grafton who had been locked up since October 1982 and had never used a cell phone was able to navigate the technology within a matter of hours.
“It really encouraged a community feel within the prison,” Hopkins said.
Following his release, Hopkins ended up reconnecting with Jamieson and met him in person for the first time at an educational conference in New Orleans.
“He’s a success story,” Jamieson says of Hopkins. “He is clearly a poster child for what this program is about.”
Since completing the program and graduating with his Associates Degree, Hopkins knew that he wasn’t done there. He is currently working to earn his Bachelor's Degree from Liberty University for Religious Services and Christian Leadership.
“When I walked across the stage and got my diploma, that feeling of completion and success is something you’ve never felt before in a lot of situations,” he said. “Just that feeling alone, the feeling that somebody believes in you, can really recharge you to the point of life changing results. It’s a sense of self worth that a lot of us have never felt before.”
Hopkins currently works for Christian Healthcare Ministries in their member services department and travels the country for his ministry to represent them. With his two daughters back in his life and just recently tying the knot with his fiancé, Hopkins is ready for what the future holds.
“I live life. My life has never been so full. That all started with God in my life and in my heart, but it translated into education with Lantern and Securus.”