Friday, 33 inmates in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women can call themselves graduates from college programs. They earned community college degrees from PVCC or certificates in a pilot program from one of the nation's top-ranked business schools.
The University of Virginia's Darden School of Business offered the entrepreneurship class to inmates at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women for the first time this fall, and now the class of 2013 says they are ready for a fresh start.
For Tiffany Edwards, this is a step into the future. She started the Darden program in December.
"I came such a long distance, it seems like, in six months," Edwards said. "Every day, every case study, every rough draft on the business plan - it was really worth it."
Now, she's a graduate, with a certificate in hand and a business plan to open her own beauty parlor.
"Every woman wants to feel good about themselves," said Edwards.
Edwards and her 13 other Darden classmates are celebrating their business success.
"It's just this real culmination in what was an idea that we could make a difference through entrepreneurship education with these women," said Gregory Fairchild, UVA Darden School professor.
They crossed the stage and turned their tassels along with inmates earning degrees from Piedmont Virginia Community College's prison program - funded through The Sunshine Foundation - managed by Warren Buffett's sister, Doris.
"This gives them an opportunity to show what they've got, and they don't let me down," said Buffett.
Rebecca Cullison, another Darden graduate, expects to get out of prison in 14 months.
"It's just a proud day for me. I'm proud my family could be here and see me," said Cullison.
Her business plan is to start a substance abuse treatment center for women. Drugs are what landed Cullison behind bars.
"I really want to help other women get off drugs, not make it here, or worse," said Cullison.
Edwards believes her diploma gives her the power to succeed on the outside.
"Don't let a place like prison get you down. Don't think because you're here this is the last stop. You can do anything you put your mind to," said Edwards.
Darden is getting calls from prison systems in Illinois, Delaware, Texas, and North Carolina to model the entrepreneurship program there.
A new course in financial literacy will start at Fluvanna this summer.
Clarification: 33 inmates graduated, not 32 as originally reported.
Saturday, April 19 2014 6:51 AM EDT2014-04-19 10:51:42 GMT
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