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Reward after many heartbreaks

September 10, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

In all her years teaching within prison walls, Daphne Mathews said positive feedback from students was a happy but rare occurrence.

"I didn't hear the good as much as I would have liked," Mathews said. "You never really know how you've touched a person's life."

But recently Mathews, who left her job as principal at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in August, heard about one young man's success after he got out of the prison south of Hagerstown.


Jawan Armstrong, now 18, is a student at Catonsville Community College, Baltimore campus.

The college said Armstrong enrolled in the business administration/accounting curriculum in June.

Armstrong, in a recent phone call to The Herald-Mail, said he enrolled at the college just a month after his release from MCTC.

While he was in prison, he said, he obtained his GED. He also attended Career Fest 2002 at MCTC and learned that there were opportunities for him once he was again free.

"I got all kinds of grants to help me pay for my schooling," he said from his home in Baltimore.

Told of Armstrong's efforts, Mathews said she remembers him particularly because he was so young - just 16 - when he was at MCTC.

"To learn about Jawan's success makes me very glad," she said. "The heartbreak is how many more youngsters there are like him in prison."

A native of Montclair, N.J., Mathews, 55, said she grew up and went to school in this New York City suburb. "It was there I learned how to get along with anybody," she said.

After high school, Mathews furthered her education at Morgan State, Johns Hopkins, University of Delaware and Coppin State, earning her bachelor's and two master's degrees. "All I need is a dissertation for my doctorate," she said.

Always interested in adult education, Mathews also worked for a time in the Baltimore City adult education program. Someone suggested to her that she should try prison education and in the 1980s, she began at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, also south of Hagerstown.

Mathews said she was running the night school there when funding was cut. Then she became principal at the Charles Hickey School for juvenile offenders in Baltimore through a private contract with a Denver-based group called Rebound.

From there, Mathews went to Delaware where she provided staff development for the state literacy resource center. The opportunity arose in the mid 1990s to come back to Hagerstown as principal of the MCTC educational department, where she stayed until August.

Currently, Mathews is administrator of the adult education program for the Christina school district in New Castle, Del.

"It's a hard life in prison - not only for inmates but also for staff," Mathews said. "Every day when you come to work, the gates slam shut behind you and you are like the inmates until you go home."

Still, while she was doing it, Mathews said she took great pride in her work behind bars. And that work was recognized.

In April 2003, Mathews was selected as Maryland Correctional Training Center employee of the month. Her program was cited as averaging more than 630 graduations each year from the GED program, vocational arts, literacy and post-secondary studies.

At that time, the MCTC education department averaged 15 GED completions per month, which is more that any other facility inside or outside of corrections, according to a prison spokesman.

The citation she received said she "constantly promotes the value of education at all levels from special education to college. She brings her experience of 25 years in education and administration to her work."

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