TIFTON - A Tifton woman chosen to represent adult literacy statewide credits the local program with transforming her life.

Melissa Robinson, who received the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education's Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education (EAGLE) Award last week in Atlanta, is the third person from Tifton to win the award in three years. (The EAGLE is given to outstanding students who receive their GED high school equivalency degree or are working on a GED). For Robinson, 32, the state competition and banquet was an unforgettable experience.

"It was just awesome," Robinson said Thursday. "All of the students were just treated like royalty."

Being honored at the formal banquet was especially sweet for Robinson, who received her GED last August while she was an inmate at the Tift County Jail.

"I quit school in the eighth grade," Robinson recalls. "I had a very dysfunctional childhood and just didn't have the encouragement to do well at school. I was going to get a job, but I soon found out life wasn't going to be easy."

Almost 16 years later, in jail and going through a divorce, Robinson had lost her self-confidence.

"I didn't think I was capable of going to school," she said. "I was full of hopelessness. But the GED program transformed me, and I feel that God put the right people in my life to help me."

At the top of Robinson's list of people to thank is Literacy Volunteers of America director Dr. Marilois Laster, the instructor for the jail's GED program. Her family, Moultrie Technical College, Sheriff Gary Vowell and Chief Jailer Milton Ring are close behind. "She mentored me, comforted me, encouraged me and took time out of her own life to help me," Robinson said of Laster. "Milton Ring gave me a lot of encouragement and support when I didn't have any, and the program wouldn't be here at all for the inmates to get an education and without the sheriff's encouragement."

To earn the GED, Robinson studied almost non-stop, working after lights out in the dim light shining into her cell from a hallway. She took the test with shackles around her ankles. "I've been coming here for four years, and I've never seen an inmate work like she did," said Laster.

Now, Robinson is a full-time student at Abraham Baldwin College, majoring in pre-law. She works as a volunteer for LVA and with the jail program, takes part in an outreach ministry, is active in a reading group at her 6-year-old son's school and will travel across the state this year as a literacy ambassador, speaking to civic groups.

"The past six months, it's just been one door after another coming open," she said. "I want people to know that the GED isn't a second-hand education. It's a second-chance education."

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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