Jones gets degree after 33 years

By Page H. Gifford

Beginning in 1991, Marie Jones began her quest for a college degree and 33 years later she finally graduated. Most would have given up on the idea of ever getting a degree, but Jones continued her journey of self-fulfillment with determination.

“I wanted to get a degree because I’ve always known the value of a good education and it was a personal goal that I had set for myself,” Jones said. “What kept me going for my degree while also raising my children and working full-time, is that I wanted to be a role model for them. I wanted them to learn to never give up, even when things get hard and they see no clear path.”

Jones said the path wasn’t clear for her.

“When I had my first child at 15 and my second before 18 years of age, by society’s standard, I was most likely supposed to be part of the statistics of those that failed society’s test and became dependent on the system to care for me and my children.”

With each pregnancy, she quit school and went back the next year. After losing so much time, she had to go before the school board to get permission to take 11th and 12th grade English in one year. She also attended summer school at Fork Union Military Academy to get enough credits to finish high school at 20 years of age.

“My daughter was starting kindergarten the very next year and if I hadn’t taken those steps, my daughter and I would have been riding the school bus together. I did not want that. She needed to develop her own identity.”

After her children were a little older, she was able to pay for a class here and there, taking her first college course in 1991 at Piedmont Virginia Community College. She continued taking a class or two if she had money.

While struggling to complete her degree, she saw to it that her children went to college. Both her son and daughter became teachers while she still had not fulfilled her goal. She could have lived vicariously through the accomplishments of her children but chose to continue her journey.

When financially able, she would start taking classes again. This pattern proceeded for 33 years. She is the first of 10 children in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. She will graduate on May 9 from Liberty University with a degree in criminal justice and human services.

Jones working in banking for 12 years as a bank teller, eventually becoming a head teller. She began working in the prison system in 1995 as a correctional officer, was promoted to sergeant, and later promoted to lieutenant. After transferring out of the security side of corrections, she got into the treatment side of corrections becoming an institutional ombudsman, then a hearings officer, and then was promoted to unit manager, which is her current position.

Initially, she said she wanted a degree in criminal justice to help her advance through the chain of command to become an assistant warden, then a warden within the Department of Corrections. She then discovered that during the process of obtaining her degree, she gained valuable lessons in the security and operations of a prison system. She also learned about the supervision of inmates through their journey of incarceration and the staff’s journey of working inside a prison.

“I did not have to be an assistant warden or warden to incorporate these lessons into my daily duties of working in a prison.”

“It feels amazing to have acquired my degree. Now I know that determination and perseverance pays off and that it’s never too late to follow your dream,” she said. “I would tell anyone who is considering beginning their career or getting their degree later in life to go for it, and it will not be easy, they will need a good support system and there will be many times that they will want to quit, but don’t. In the end, accomplishing a personal goal you’ve set for yourself is so rewarding.”

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