Graduate Frederick Swann with his two sons Diior, left, and Darzjhae, and their mother Shawnelle Burt. *Photos by Simon Jones
Graduate Frederick Swann with his two sons Diior, left, and Darzjhae, and their mother Shawnelle Burt. *Photos by Simon Jones

WEDNESDAY, JULY 6: For prisoners Frederick Swann and Ernest Smith their GED certificate is more than just a piece of paper.

It is the chance to make a fresh start when they walk out of Westgate into the outside world.

Both men have already begun to set themselves goals for when they are freed and both are determined to make up for lost time.

Mr Swann was sentenced to four years behind bars at the beginning of 2010 for a violent attack on a man in Hamilton.

His time behind bars has meant he has missed out on seeing his two sons, Diior, four and Darzjhae, five, grow up.

The 28-year-old told the Bermuda Sun: “Getting the GED qualification is something I always wanted to do

“I just needed to pass my math when I got up here and I worked hard to get it.

“It means a lot to me and my family to get this.

“I went through a lot as a child — education was just in the background. I did not really pay attention at school.

“I did not really have a childhood — it was shakey.”

Mr Swann has already applied to Bermuda College to study computer information systems.

And he hopes to pick up a job repairing computers once he has qualified.

But his chances of getting parole later this year depend on whether he can find a job before he leaves prison.

He said: “It’s really hard because to get parole I need a job.

“And I have tried to apply for jobs but there just are not that many going around at the moment.

“I have been trying to get a job since January — I’ve been making calls and sending out applications but have not heard anything back yet.

“It would be easier for me to get a job if I was outside these walls.”

Mr Swann’s two sons, and their mother Shawnelle Burt, attended the GED graduation ceremony at Westgate last week.

He added: “It’s important to get this qualification for my children too.

“It’s made me feel a whole lot better about myself as a man.

“I have thought a lot about the way I came up and I want to make sure that my children don’t go through what I did.

“I want to show them a better way.

“It’s the hardest part of me being here — being away from my family. I’m missing out on them growing up and that is hard.

“If I did not have my family I’m not sure I would have gone through this.

“For the first time I am setting goals for myself and I appreciate life and my children.”

Ernest Smith

Mr Smith was sent to Westgate for armed robbery two years ago, but it was not his first time behind bars.

He said: “I was mixed up in drugs and that kind of stuff.

“I first when to prison for road traffic offences when I was 19 and it just kind of escalated from there.

“I was in and out of prison due to drugs after that. I did not know whether I was coming or going.”

The father-of-two, who was a talented golfer in his teenage years, embarked on his GED qualification to prove to his family he could change.

He said: “I want a challenge and I wanted to elevate myself.

“I dropped out of school when I was 17 and growing up, education was not that important to me.

“At that time there were a lot of jobs in construction and I just wanted to get on and earn some money.

“This was my fourth attempt to get my GED and I put in more hours this time than any time I did it previously.

“I kept failing the math exam but this year I was really determined.

“I devoted all my time to it and am so happy to have passed it.

“It was very important to do this for my two sons too — I think I have neglected them long enough and I want to take on this responsibility again.

“I hope this shows the people around me and my family that I am willing to do something for myself and make a change in my life.

“This is just the start and for the first time I am optimistic about the future.”

Mr Smith hopes to get parole in October this year and plans to take up plumbing when he is released.

Mr Swann and Mr Smith were two of 11 inmates at Westgate to be presented with their GED certificates last week.

The other graduates were: Tyevon Bean, Troy Burgess, Dale Fubler, Collin Hendrickson, Kellan Lewis, Tracyston Mallory, Desmond Richardson, Dwayne Signor and Stacey Simpson.

During the presentation Mr Richardson told his fellow graduates: “Even though we are incarcerated we can still set goals.

“It is just a shame that it took us to hit rock bottom before we decided to change.”