May 14, 2024

Corrections System Boosts Hinds CC Graduation for Former Inmate

A former inmate who was inspired to go to Hinds Community College when professors came to teach at her correctional facility has graduated.
BY: Cathy Hayden

PEARL—Sha’Metrice Thomas had a Hinds Community College fan club of former instructors waiting for her after her May 9 graduation ceremony.

Thomas, 25, was incarcerated at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for five years before being released in August 2022. While she was there, she began taking classes taught inside the facility by Hinds instructors. Hinds has been offering classes there for a number of years.

Earning a few credits gave Thomas the desire to keep going. She plans to return to Hinds in the fall and pursue a medical program. 

Sha’Metrice Thomas of Jackson first began taking Hinds Community College classes while she was incarcerated at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. On May 9 she received an associate degree in one of four graduation ceremonies. With her are, from left, Academic Dean Melissa Buie, retired History Department chairman Sheila Hailey, and Business instructor Nita Burchfield. (Hinds Community College/Brad Smith)

“It gave me that motivation upon my release to get out and go ahead and finish college,” said Thomas, a Murrah High School graduate who lives in Jackson. “My ultimate goal is really to get as many degrees as I can and just to see how far I can go in life. I didn’t even know the type of potential I had. I never knew I was that smart.”

Retired Hinds History chairman Sheila Hailey, who was among instructors supporting her at graduation, taught Thomas in a World History class. “She was one of my younger students. She was very dedicated and wanted to go back to college,” Hailey said. Thomas’ smile “just lit up the room.”

Hinds awarded 1,270 credentials to 972 graduates in four ceremonies held over three days, which means many graduates earned more than one credential. Among the graduates, 448 graduated with honors, including 260 cum laude, 3.2–3.59 GPA out of 4.0; 152 magna cum laude, 3.60–3.99 GPA; and 36 summa cum laude, with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Speaking at the May 9 2 p.m. graduation ceremony at Hinds Community College were Casey Westbrook of Brandon, left, and Gabriel Williams of Jackson, right. They are with Hinds President Dr. Stephen Vacik, center. (Hinds Community College/Brad Smith)

The speakers for each ceremony were students receiving degrees who have shown leadership and excellence in their fields of study and were selected by their instructors and peers.

At the 2 p.m. ceremony, Gabriel D. Williams, 20, of Jackson, said the invocation and benediction. He has earned an associate degree in art and plans to transfer to Mississippi College to continue his studies. The speaker was Casey Westbrook, 20, of Brandon.

“Entering college was a nerve-wracking experience for me, as I’m sure it was for many of you – the unfamiliar surroundings, the unknown faces of professors, and the fear of not finding my place,” said Westbrook, who earned an associate degree and plans to transfer to Mississippi State University to pursue a degree in psychology.

“But, as I soon discovered, Hinds had a way of proving those fears unfounded. It taught me a valuable lesson: what you invest in, you inevitably receive in return. I poured my efforts into forging new connections, joining clubs, immersing myself in my studies. And in doing so, I found a wealth of friendships and support that I never imagined possible,” she said. 

About Hinds Community College

Hinds offers affordable, comprehensive educational opportunities across six campus locations and has nearly 500 academic classes guaranteed to transfer to a university, over 65 career and technical program options and an extensive array of online courses. Applications for general admissions are currently being accepted. Prospective students are encouraged to apply and explore enrollment steps at

Our Mission: Hinds Community College is committed to moving people and communities forward by helping develop their purpose, passion and profession. 

Our Vision: Hinds Community College will be a catalyst to create a competitive economy and a compelling culture for Mississippi. 

Our Values: Hinds Community College aspires to the following IDEALSIntegrity, Diversity, Excellence, Accountability, Leadership, Stewardship.

To learn more, visit or call 1.800.HindsCC.