ROANOKE (WSLS 10) -Virginia is now the country's only state offering state prisoners college credit.
On Thursday, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that prisoners can get credit for five career and technical education courses recommended by the American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT).
The courses include Introduction to Business, Business and Software Applications, Commercial Arts & Design, Computer-Aided Drafting and Digital Print Production.
After completing the courses, inmates can submit transcripts to colleges and universities. Schools will then decide if the courses will be accepted.
This will provide inmates with a second chance at making a living on the right side of the law. It's an opportunity Virginia Cares case manager Sam Coles ex-offenders don't know how to achieve.
"A lot of people in prison have never had the opportunity to dream about anything," Coles said. "Many come from families and backgrounds we can't even begin to understand."
Sam Coles would know. He spent seven and a half years in prison for a multi-million dollar marijuana growing conspiracy. He was lucky enough to have gotten a four-year degree before he served his time, but that wasn't the case for many others he knew behind bars.
Partially because he had a degree, Coles was able to get a job as soon as he got out of prison. Now, Coles is helping ex-offenders reintegrate back into society. He begins his orientation speech at Virginia Cares classes the same way every year with four choices.
"First is to go to work, try to get a job. Second is to create your own job. Three, go back to school. The fourth one is go back to what you were doing to what you were doing before you got to prison," Coles said. He says he always recommends ex-convicts to go for an education.
He says the ACE credit recommendation courses are crucial to getting inmates in the right frame of mind when preparing for life on the outside.
"I had a lot of support when I got out, but a lot of folks coming out now, we deal with people who don't have any family or they have burnt a lot of bridges," Coles said. "And that's tough to rebuild."
For more information, visit the ACE CREDIT website at www.acenet.edu/credit.