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Lessons behind bars: Changing lives through adult education

Transitioning from life in prison to life in society can be difficult for individuals who haven’t acquired skills that employers need or learned strategies for coping with public life. Retired law enforcement worker Tricia Diehl recognizes that, so she’s pursing her dream of improving inmates’ lives through education.

Tricia’s interest was initially piqued when she assisted inmates in work release programs. In these programs, individuals take classes to learn things like basic English, writing and technical skills. In addition, they seek employment – if they receive jobs, they are released, and if not they are sent back to prison to finish their original sentences.

“The better prepared they are in the classes, the better prepared they are to get jobs, and it helps keep them out of trouble,” Tricia said. “I believe that correctional education is crucial to society. If people get a chance to get an education, it makes all the difference.”

In retirement, Tricia has turned her attention to her own education in hopes of one day positively impacting the lives of those she wants to serve.

“The Master of Education in Adult Education was helping me learn new avenues for correctional education,” Tricia said. “My final applied project with Dr. Pressley Rankin was my favorite. It pulled together everything I had learned; it was the accumulation of everything I wanted to do professionally.”

For her final project, Tricia developed a program that trained qualified prisoners to be conflict management sponsors for other prisoners in the work release program. The program offered them counseling from someone who knew first-hand the issues and concerns they might experience in seeking and maintaining gainful employment.

“I thought if there was someone there that could be a sponsor for them, if there was someone who understood conflict management skills and mediation skills, it could really make a difference.” Tricia said. “The project started out as a case study and is now being implemented at a local work release program and has very positive results. I was very happy that it came together and has worked out; with Dr. Rankin’s guidance the program is working.”

A new chapter

Tricia Diehl

Tricia Diehl

When asked why she chose to go back to school in her retirement, Tricia explained that when she was growing up, going to college was something that was expected in society, so she always knew she’d someday go – and she has. Tricia graduated from City University of Seattle with her Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology in 2013, her Master of Education in Adult Education in 2015, and is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education in Leadership.

“I’m a very nontraditional student, I’m older and disabled, and CityU makes it work” Tricia said. “They are the most encouraging supportive, teaching staff I’ve ever encountered. They take the time to get to know you; you’re not just a number. They really support you.”

Tricia isn’t going back to school alone; her husband, Tim, was in the same bachelor’s and master’s programs with her.

“We’ve really enjoyed it and CityU has become a part of our lives,” Tricia said. “Sometimes people think you get that university connection right out of high school, but at CityU it doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone gets that connection.”

The flexibility of CityU’s academic programs and the option to take online courses at her own pace was important to Tricia.

“I love online courses; I think they are the best way you can go right now because they allow you the time you need to study when you can,” Tricia said. “People might not think you can get the same connection as in-person, but yes, you can. I’ve made a good friend in Greece. I’ve never met her in person, but I talk to her regularly because of CityU.”

As a result of studying at CityU, Tricia says she’s gained more than just an education.

“They’ve not just given me the knowledge and skills. They’ve given me the confidence in myself that I can successfully do this,” Tricia said. “Think about the Seahawks and the 12 – that’s what CityU does. The students are the team and CityU is the 12.”

An advocate for others

Just as people have supported her in her educational journey, Tricia wants to turn around and support others.

“I want to work with the Department of Corrections to make sure educational programs are offered as much as possible,” Tricia said.

In particular, she sees a special opportunity with youth. As a major Seattle Seahawks fan, Tricia admires the way team players visit sick children in the hospital.

“I would like to develop a program that’s as spirited and as committed as the Seahawks are [to visiting children in the hospital] that partners with juvenile delinquents and invests in them,” Tricia said. “I believe I can do something for kids who might be on the wrong side of the law.”

At one time or another, everyone needs a supporter in their corner. For those in need of education and a second chance, Tricia is theirs.