WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Teamwork & Technology Help Jail Inmate Earn GED While Incarcerated

Mar 28, 2018

Trenton Sealock said he moved around a lot and had a lot of stepdads while growing up. He dropped out of high school when he was a sophomore and has gotten into trouble with the law ever since.  "I've come to jail for stupid crimes," he said.

But as the 23-year old Bushnell man sat behind bars at the McDonough County jail this year for a domestic violence charge, he decided it was time to turn his life around.  So he jumped at the chance when he learned about an online program called i-Pathways, which is designed to help inmates prepare for the GED tests.

“I just want to better my life. The jail offered me that opportunity and I figured I would be dumb not to take it,” Sealock said.

“I want to do something decent with myself so my (11-month old) daughter has a dad that she can be proud of.”

Sealock said it took about a month-and-a-half to complete the requirements to earn his GED. He credited i-Pathways with making that possible.

He anticipated getting out of jail soon, and said the next step is to earn a certificate in welding from Spoon River College. He said he has already signed up for classes that begin in August.

The i-Pathways Program

McDonough County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout said i-Pathways is offered at all of the Illinois Department of Corrections facilities, so the sheriff’s department decided to give it a try a couple years ago.  It was the first county jail to implement the program. 

Several of the county jail’s inmates have started the program since then but Sealock is the first to complete it and receive his GED.

i-Pathways is provided through the Center for the Application of Information Technologies (CAIT) at Western Illinois University. Brandon John, Project Manager for i-Pathways, said inmates are given access to computers that are not connected to the internet.

“Our box here puts out its own little wireless network.  So when they’re on their Chromebook in their study room, they connect only to our box,” John said, adding the program has seven modules to help inmates prepare for the GED – one each for subjects such as math, science, and social studies.

“In this jail, once they complete a module the sheriff would take them to the Spoon River College Community Outreach Center (in Macomb) and have them complete that particular test for the GED.”

With a Little Help from My Friends

Sealock said he spent at least three hours a day studying.  He said he put in a lot of work but added others also deserve credit.

“I’ve had a lot of help. I couldn’t have done it by myself.  I’m really thankful for the people that I’ve had here that have kind of boosted me through it,” Sealock said.

One of those people is Emily Claros, who’s the GED coordinator for the sheriff’s department.  She told Sealock that earning his GED was the toughest step but his journey is not finished.

“If you come back (to jail), you know what you’re jeopardizing now,” Claros said. “He’s been made fully aware of that.”

Claros said she will use Sealock’s story to motivate other inmates to work on earning their GED.  And Sealock said he’s learned important lessons about getting his life on the right path.

“You have to put forth the effort. You have to put forth the steps. You’ve got to live life the right way if you’re ever going to get ahead. Or you’re just going to keep coming back here (to jail),” Sealock said.