Ellsworth inmate chooses to walk at commencement

Daryl Beck poses for a photo after receiving his associate degree May 16 at Barton Community College.

June 9, 2014
Story and photo by Brandon Steinert

Daryl Beck has been incarcerated at Ellsworth Correctional Facility for nearly eight long years, but like most inmates, Beck will not be in prison forever – he will be a free man again. His release date is August 15.

The questions Beck had to ask himself are the same questions important to society and the effectiveness of the Kansas corrections system: What do those eight years mean? Are they just punishment; Wasted moments behind bars? Or, should there be more to it than that? How can Beck improve himself to make life better when he returns to the community? How can society help?

All those questions are continually being answered, and Beck stands as a prime example of how inmates, correctional facilities and partners in the community can work together to make life better and communities safer.

Beck didn’t waste his eight years. He spent them working toward an associate of general studies degree from Barton, which he is using to transfer to Kansas State University, where he plans to earn a bachelor's degree in technology management and a master's degree in technology.

“It's a good feeling,” he said. “It's nice to have accomplished something, and have something to show for my time here. I've learned things that will last a lifetime.”

Ellsworth Correctional Facility has been extremely supportive of students' efforts to attain education. The administration looks for ways to celebrate accomplishments when possible. Beck was able to attend Barton's commencement in May to receive his degree and celebrate along with the other Barton graduates. ECF Warden Dan Schnurr said he was pleased Beck chose to walk at commencement.

“The decision to walk across the stage is an important step for an offender to take, and takes a lot of courage,” Schnurr said. “For successful reintegration into society, an offender must have the self-confidence and the knowledge that society will accept him for what he is doing right now, walking across a commencement ceremony stage demonstrates that. It puts the offender on the same playing field as every other graduate. It tells him that he is important and people do care. The impact of walking across a stage and knowing that sense of accomplishment is invaluable to an offender and instills the connectivity to society that it takes for all of us to be successful.”

Beck appreciated the opportunity and was proud to be a part of the class of 2014’s celebration.

“It was awesome to be able to walk at graduation,” he said. “I'm glad I was able to attend.”

Barton has had a presence in the Ellsworth facility since 2001. Barton’s Coordinator of Correctional Education Services Will Rains said Barton’s effort to provide education programs in prisons is simply common sense. Inmates who leave prison better prepared for the outside world are less likely to repeat their mistakes and wind up back in prison.

ECF Deputy Warden Marty Sauers agreed.

“Education is one of several important factors that has an impact on successful release,” Sauers said. “Approximately 95 percent of all KDOC offenders will eventually be released back to society. It is important that we do everything we can to provide opportunities for offenders to have success upon their release. The education opportunities provided through Barton can have a positive impact on the potential for a successful release of offenders, which in turn reduces the recidivism rate.”