According to a 2018 report conducted by The Brookings Institution, nearly half of ex-prisoners hadn’t reported earning in the first several years following prison, and among those who were able to find work, half earned less than $10,090 annually (or less than a full-time job at minimum wage). In this instance, Bishop State Alum Jerry Burch is not a statistic, despite being imprisoned twice in his youth.

Like many teens navigating through life, Burch found himself struggling to find a purpose or to make a plan for his future. He dropped out of high school–a decision that he regrets as he has matured– and found himself in situations that had proven themselves difficult. After being seemingly stuck in a cycle of crime, he knew that he needed to change. “I was tired of living the life that I lived,” Burch admitted. He realized that his actions–and their consequences–surpassed him.

Burch began to think about his family and the future that he wanted to provide for them. His concerns were especially for his son, who he was forced to leave each time he was incarcerated. The pain of missing his son’s growth during his incarceration ignited a fire within him that burned with passion for positive change.

Upon his release from confinement, Burch visited a local career center after a close friend told him about the possible opportunities that he could find there. Although he assumed he’d have limited options due to his checkered past, career counselor Mary Driggers guided and assisted him by sharing all of the career and training opportunities he was eligible to pursue. “It changed my life and the course of my future for sure,” he said.

During this meeting, he was introduced to the WIOA Adult Program which allowed him to pursue his education at Bishop State Community College. “I walked out that day on such a life high, because it was an opportunity for me to do something different with my life”, Burch explained.

He decided to enroll in the Diesel Technology program at Bishop State in an effort to learn and grow as a person for himself and for his loved ones. After years of disappointment, loss of time, and regret, Burch chose to take his life in a new direction through education. “I wanted to learn all that I could learn,” he said.

Although a fresh start may seem exciting, it can also be nerve-wracking. As a high school dropout, Burch had demonstrated an aversion to the classroom early in life. He feared being in a classroom setting would be an uphill battle. “I hadn’t been in a school setting in over twelve years,” he explained. However, there were many attractive attributes of the Diesel Program that contributed to Burch’s success and eased his nerves.

Burch credits Diesel Technology Lead Instructor Hudson McGallagher for playing an instrumental role in helping him adapt to the classroom environment and content. To date, they still communicate––years after Burch successfully completed the training. In addition, there were other academic instructors and guest speakers in the sector who also added to Burch’s repertoire––never hesitating to offer assistance outside of the classroom.

Further, Burch was also relieved to find peers that had a shared interest for knowledge. Through classroom discussions and hands-on experience with welding, cutting, engine building and dissecting, and more, Burch was able to forge meaningful relationships with his peers. “We fed off of each other’s information,” he said. “I made great connections, [with] some guys [that] I still talk to.”

After taking an accelerated route and receiving his Associate's Degree in Diesel Technology in less than two years, Burch began his new life without hesitation. “It’s rewarding…I’m learning everyday… [and] I work with a good group of people,” he said. He also shared that this degree is the reason that he was able to buy a house and steadily support his family, making a tremendous (positive) impact on their lives.

Above all, Burch wants everyone to know a fresh start is possible for anyone that wants it–– no matter how many poor choices they may have made throughout their lives. “If I could do it… anybody could do it,” he said. “I like the field, I want more guys to come through it! I would love to see guys from my background take this route.”

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in diesel technology, click here to explore the affordable and competitive programs of study at Bishop State.

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