Jim Johns chose to earn his bachelor’s degree in a field he is passionate about. Several years ago, he was assisting GED instructors in jails and halfway houses as a favor to a friend. One evening the instructor did not show up, so he agreed to teach.
“I gave it a try, and the next thing I knew I was hooked,” he said. “I became the instructor. I taught GED courses at our local jail for about 5 years and was intrigued with the workings of our criminal justice system.”
Knowing that most inmates only see guards and the occasional attorney, Jim tried to build relationships with them. He incorporated life skills to his lessons. He listened when they talked about their situations. More than once, he wrote a letter to a judge on behalf of a non-violent inmate he saw trying to change.
“I took the approach that if I could help one person turn their life around then my time there would be successful,” he said.
The EKU Online Corrections and Juvenile Justice program allowed him to earn a bachelor’s degree while maintaining a fulltime job. It’s been a rewarding experience. “What I have found in almost every course is a professor who is willing to help a student succeed,” said Jim.
Jim credits the engaging classes with keeping him motivated. “I have found the subject matter to be very interesting with each and every course,” he said. “I have had so many fantastic professors throughout my journey.
One lesson that stays with him is the size of the country’s prison population. “The U.S. basically makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population. However, we house 25 percent of the world’s prison population. What’s more astounding is that we have approximately 7 million people under some form of correctional supervision, whether that be incarcerated, probation or parole. Those numbers are hard to forget,” he said.
Stephen Kappeler, a senior lecturer in the EKU Department of Criminal Justice and Police Studies, nominated Jim for the 2017 EKU Online Outstanding Student Award. “Jim never takes shortcuts with his assignments. In addition to being conscientious, he is always reaching out to other students – young or old – to offer encouragement. He is a role model,” he wrote in his nomination.
Although he is currently employed in another field, Jim’s degree in Corrections and Juvenile Justice will help him fulfill a calling after retirement. “My plan is to volunteer at the local jail and halfway house teaching GED courses again. I plan to use what knowledge I have gained through my studies to help inmates understand the justice system,” he said.