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Incarcerated Community Member Earns High School Diploma

(L-R) Teacher Simon Obi and SRPMIC member Melicia Arthur during her graduation ceremony on May 24.
Photo credit: Arizona Department of Corrections

Earlier this spring, more than 50 high school graduates from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community received their diplomas.

Community member Melicia Arthur, 25, was one of them, because she didn’t let imprisonment stop her from reaching her goal.

For roughly the past three years, Arthur’s home address has been the Arizona State Prison Complex Perryville in Goodyear. She was sentenced to prison for kidnapping on August 25, 2014.

In a recent phone interview from prison, Arthur said she continues to push to better herself. She said she has learned from her mistakes and she’s hoping for her release in 2019.

“Being in prison is not something I’m proud of,” she said. “My motivation is my mom being there for me, just trying to better myself, [and] choices I made from mistakes.”

In late May, after roughly a year of dedication in the prison classroom, Arthur not only received her high school diploma, she was at the top of her graduating class and delivered a speech during her cap-and-gown prison ceremony.

“I’m very proud of her,” said her mother, Felicia Arthur. “I think she learned her lesson. I’m hoping for her to go on with her education because she sees that I went positive myself. She sees that I’m out here, sobered up my life, and working. I’ve worked at the Round House (Café) for two years and I’m now a supervisor. I started as a day laborer.”

A little more than a year ago, Arthur, known only as “Little” to the other inmates, wasn’t taking education seriously and did only enough schoolwork to stay in the classroom, but purposely not enough to earn her eighth-grade diploma. At the time, school was a brief escape from her daily prison-cell reality, and if she completed eighth grade, that escape would disappear. Or so she thought.

High school credit was an option if inmates completed the eighth grade. In a relatively new program in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Education, Perryville offers a high school curriculum to its inmates. In the first 18 months almost 100 inmates graduated, said Mark Jones, prison education administrator. About 250 have graduated since.

The prison hosts a cap-and-gown ceremony after a handful of inmates complete enough high school credits.

A General Education Development (GED) diploma is also an option, but it can cost up to $125 to take the final test, a fee inmates have to pay. No payment is required to work on a high school diploma, Jones said.

In prison, classes are held year-round and roughly four hours a day. The curriculum follows state education requirements.

Much of the work is computer-related and the program is self-paced, Arthur said.

On May 24, roughly three months after completing the graduation requirements, Arthur received her hard-earned diploma. She spent about two weeks writing her graduation speech, and she said she was nervous at first delivering it. In her speech, she shared a short story on how her teacher, Simon Obi, inspired her. She graduated with four other high school graduates and one GED student.

Earning college credit is Arthur’s next challenge.

“For every negative, there is a positive, and that’s what I go by,” she said.