WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) – In 2020, Anthony Owens found himself behind bars in a prison cell, serving time for a drug charge. Two years later, the Milwaukee native is expected to receive his High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) from Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
“I said in the jail cell, ‘Enough is enough,'” Owens said, sitting in his classroom on MATC’s West Allis campus. “I started to change. I started going to school.”
Owens was able to take advantage of the educational programs made available to him while incarcerated. When he was released earlier this year he had a course he had to complete in order to receive his HSED.
“Getting out of incarceration is a challenge in itself, so trying to find your way around after being released isn’t easy,” explained Holly Thielen, 5.09 HSED education manager and coordinator at MATC. “When he [Owens] came out, he was there. He introduced himself. He knew what he wanted to do and we were able to get it through very, very quickly.”
Thielen has been helping adults continue their education through the 5.09 HSED program since 2000. She takes great pride in her work.
“Many of the students who come to these programs have had difficult educational situations and have not succeeded,” Thielen said. “That’s always been the purpose of my life, is to help people in ways other people can’t and I think that’s what I’m good at.”
Andrea Saldana Murillo came to the United States from Mexico in 1997. A language barrier and poverty forced her to start working instead of finishing high school. Earlier this month, she received her HSED from MATC.
“It was a challenge for me because I have my job, I have four children and I had to do my homework after work, sometimes at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.,” said Saldana Murillo. “It was a challenge for me, but I think it’s never too late to go back to school because when I was young I didn’t have the opportunity to go back to school. “
Saldana Murillo currently has her own business as a nail technician and hopes to open her own beauty salon in the near future.
“I want to add more services for my business and for the future,” explained Saldana Murillo. “I want to buy my own beauty [salon] to work with the community. To work with other women.”
As for Owens, the schooling doesn’t stop there. He plans to continue his college education at MATC in hopes of working as a computer technician. He is also interested in real estate.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to have in my hands, and for me, it’s going to be a big hit, because I never thought I could do it,” Owens said, talking about getting his diploma. “My brother got his, my sister got hers, I was the only one left. Now I’m about to join the club.”
A total of 213 graduates, including Owens, will graduate on Thursday, May 26 at Cooley Auditorium in Milwaukee.