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Harris offers praise for aid after fall, inmate GED efforts

Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris returned home over the weekend to
not only visit family and friends, but also to recognize those who
helped him and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department during the time
of his injury, which has resulted in a lengthy absence.
His first order of business was to congratulate one former and one
current jail inmate for earning their General Educational Development
certification through an eight-week program provided by the UCSD.
Former inmate Jimmy Rogers and Crystal Easler, still incarcerated,
were only the third and fourth inmates to earn GED certification
through the program, and Harris said he could not have been more
proud.
Harris said the programs were started just before he fell, and that he
didn’t get to congratulate the other two GED graduates as he did
Rogers and Easler. “I am proud as I would be if it was one of my
young-uns.”
Harris also thanked UCSD Deputy Lyle Wilcox, the program instructor,
for his efforts to help inmates, saying education was a key component
to rehabilitation.
“I put a lot of people to jail and I have sent a lot of people to
prison, but nothing makes me happier than seeing an inmate change
their life,” Harris said. “That’s what jail is supposed to be, it is
supposed to be rehabilitation, and this is just one of the many things
we do here to try to get them to change.”
Wilcox said the program currently lasts eight weeks, and inmates are
brought into the program on a rotating continual basis.
He said each inmate is evaluated on his or her individual needs
through an ability assessment, and the program structure and duration
is modified to their educational needs.
Despite Harris’ praise, Wilcox said the key to success or failure in
the program comes down to effort on the part of the student.
“You have to apply yourself,” Wilcox said.
When asked if he thought the programs were successful, the sheriff
said that application and dedication to UCSD programs was easy to see,
citing an inmate who wanted to stay in jail as an example.
“One inmate, from what I was told, told one of the criminal court
judges that he didn’t want to get out of jail,” Harris said. “They
were going to let him out that day and he asked to stay in jail to
finish his program, so if that doesn’t tell you it’s successful, I
don’t know what is.
“This one man here, Jimmy Rodgers, I’ve known him for 30 years and I
can just tell how proud he is.”
Harris said he hopes inmates will continue to participate in classes
and rehabilitation sessions, and with classrooms and drug-treatment
sections possibly being added to the Unicoi County Jail Workhouse
Annex, he wants to see the programs grow.
“Education is so important,” Harris said.
The sheriff also said it was important to present UCSD employee Cozy
Silvers with a Good Samaritan certificate from the Order of the Arch
Angel Michael Police League on behalf of the law-enforcement
profession and the American Police Hall of Fame for his actions in
aiding Harris on the day of his Aug. 18 fall from a ladder atop the
Unicoi County Jail.
UCSD Employee Gabe Williams was also awarded a certificate for his
assistance, but was not present during the Friday presentation.
Harris said both men provided assistance after he was injured until
medical personnel arrived, and, in his opinion, prevented further
damage.
As for recovery, Harris said he will remain at the Florida Institute
for Neurological Rehabilitation for the remainder of the week to
receive treatment. He will then travel back to the Shepherd Center in
Atlanta to receive outpatient services for what he said should be a
few more weeks.
“I have been pushing really hard in physical therapy,” Harris said.
After months of rehab and hospitalization, the sheriff said he’s
looking forward to returning to Unicoi County on a full-time basis and
resuming his duties as the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Editor's Note: Gabe Williams was listed as an inmate in the Feb. 1 print version of this article. A correction will run in the Feb. 8 issue of the Erwin Record.