ROGERSVILLE — Kyle Hardy has spent 11 of his 17 adult years in a state prison, not including time spent in county jails, but when he is released later this year he has hope for the first time in his life that he won’t be coming back.
Hardy, who is a state inmate serving his time at the Hawkins County Jail, was among 17 inmates who received their GEDs during a ceremony held Tuesday evening in the Hawkins County Circuit Courtroom.
He told the Times-News prior to the event that the diploma is a second chance not only for him, but for his family and his children.
“I have four kids and a stepkid, and how I see it, I can’t tell them to do something that I didn’t do,” Hardy said. “Now I can push them, that they need to finish. My wife and I talked about it. They see me in and out of jail, so they think that’s the normal way to live.
“I come from a good background. I don’t know where my life took that ‘wrong turn at Albuquerque’ but it did. I’ll be 36 in September, and I’ve still got a lot of life to go. I’ve got my kids to worry about, and that’s my driving force — my kids. Now that I have my GED, I can actually get out and have something to do without having to worry about coming back to something like this, because I don’t have to resort to the criminal life.”
His current incarceration stems from an arrest in 2010 in Knox County for burglary and drug possession, with a probation violation in between.
He expects to be released in three months and three weeks, and he’ll have a stretch of probation to get through, but he plans on spending that time studying welding at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville where his family lives.
Hardy has been in contact with admissions officials at Pellissippi State who will help him get enrolled in welding classes upon his release, and he’ll have the support of his father and sister during that time.
He is a native of Florida, where he became a certified diver, and he hoped to someday be an underwater welder, which should be more lucrative than regular welding.
“Now I’ve actually got an opportunity, and I’m grateful for this,” he said. “Now I’ve got something to look forward to because I’ve got a leg up, as opposed to just getting thrown back to the wolves again. People just keep coming back, and back, and back, and I’m trying to break that cycle.
“My kids are still young. My oldest will be 10 in December. I’ve still got time to make an impression on them and make them understand that what I’ve done in the past is not the example I want to set for them and not the life I would want them to fall into.”
During Tuesday’s ceremony, Sheriff Ronnie Lawson told the graduates that their diploma means as much to him as it does to them because he sees where they’ve come from and the hard work they’ve put in to get to this point.
“It’s another step for you in the right direction,” Lawson said. “It helps you come to a crossroads where now you can turn right, get a job, and have a brighter future. I think you see now that there’s not much future where you’re at. Where you go now depends on you all because there is work out there if you really want to work, and there’s hope and promise.”
Guest speaker Jennifer Greene, who is the lead teacher with the Northeast State Community College’s Adult Education program, told the graduates education gives them an opportunity to do something different.
“By jumping through those hoops and completing those tests, I hope you see how much you actually can do, how much you can achieve if you set your mind to it,” Greene said.
Denise Carr with the 2nd Chance Program based in Morristown helps people with criminal records find employment upon their release.
She handed each of the graduates pamphlets and contact information and said she will help them not only find employment when they are released, but help them find funding to continue their education at a community or technical college.
The Hawkins County Jail had 75 inmates earn a GED in the three previous years, including 40 in 2016.
Aside from Hardy, the Hawkins County Jail GED Class of 2017 includes Christopher Berry, Noah Carrier, Alfonso Cedeno, Edgar Chess, Eric Conaster, Christopher Cross, Tyler Denison, Eric Ferguson, Jordon Ferrell, Joshua Fultz, Justin Herron, Destiny Lawson, Steven Merril, Johnny Peters, Ronema Widner, and Rickie Price.