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Prison inmates graduate from Helena College automotive program

Montana State Prison Graduation
Bryce Adams
Brandon Seaman
Montana State Prison Graduation
Montana State Prison Graduation
Posted at 7:06 PM, May 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 11:42:52-04

Helena College conducted its main graduation ceremonies over the weekend, but leaders had one more on Monday, for a different group of students.

The ceremony recognized six inmates at the Montana State Prison, who earned certificates for completing a one-year automotive technology program through the college.

“I confer the certificate of applied science degree, for which you have completed all requirements for graduation,” said Sandra Bauman, Helena College dean and CEO. “Graduates, now move your tassel to the other side of your cap. You are officially Helena College alumni. Congratulations!”

“It feels amazing,” said graduate Aaron Brogan. “It's like one foot in front of the other – learning to walk again after a fall. It's great to be able to have some rehabilitation.”

This was the second year Helena College partnered with the Montana Department of Corrections for this program. The participating inmates got classroom and hands-on instruction at the prison, and they attended lectures virtually.

Graduates said they liked the work they did, but it wasn’t only technical skills they got out of the program – they also talked about learning skills for life.

Montana State Prison Graduation
Sandra Bauman, dean and CEO of Helena College, presents a certificate to Aaron Brogan, an inmate student graduating from the college's automotive technology program at Montana State Prison.

“The greatest thing I get from this program is I've got the confidence now to go out into the workforce and be successful – you know, make the right choices,” said Bryce Adams. “I've shown that I can succeed.”

Adams, from Billings, says the program inspired him to continue his education. He says he’s already been approved for parole and plans to study health science and human performance.

Brogan, originally from Denver, says his family does extensive community service through their church, and he hopes to return to Colorado and help them.

Bryce Adams
Bryce Adams, an inmate student at the Montana State Prison, spoke to his fellow students at a graduation ceremony May 6, 2024.

Brandon Seaman, from Kalispell, says he hopes to be accepted into a second year of the automotive program and earn an associate degree.

“That'd be great – you know, something I never thought I'd do,” he said. “And to be able to do that and be able to give back, give back to communities and not be such a taker and be part of the solution instead of the problem out there would be great.”

Scott Eychner is the rehabilitation and programs chief for the Department of Corrections.

“This is why we do what we do, right?” he said Monday.

Eychner said nine inmates graduated from this program last year, and several of them are now out working in the auto repair industry.

Brandon Seaman
Brandon Seaman, an inmate student at the Montana State Prison, speaks to his fellow students at a graduation ceremony May 6, 2024.

“The more industry champions that we could find who would come in and actually help not only support these things, but give these guys a chance, hire them, help them find their way back in the community – the more that we can get, the better this program will continue to be,” he said.

And the program is continuing: The next cohort of automotive technology students is set to begin their work next week.

The Department of Corrections says students paid for the course with help from a federal prison education program. They said the U.S. Department of Education has approved Montana State University-Billings, Great Falls College and Dawson Community College as well as Helena College to provide instruction for inmates.