ST. GABRIEL, LA (FOX44) — Ten inmates have taken their time behind bars and turned it into something positive. Today, they graduated from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Sign Language Interpreter Program.
When Scott Huffman came to prison two years ago, he never imagined sign language would become such a huge part of his life.
"I had a history of starting things and quitting things. I never was really interested in anything, so I started learning how to do sign language, and it attracted me," Huffman said. "I stayed up to the wee hours of the morning just signing and signing and signing and it became like an addiction for me."
Thursday, Huffman and nine of his classmates graduated from the program. Huffman said he began signing last year, and all the practicing have paid off.
"I would literally go from the time I got off of work until two or three o'clock in the morning. I would do that for months and months and months," Huffman said. "It really influenced a major change in my life. Now I have something that I can take home with me. I can teach to my son. I just feel really blessed to be able to have this opportunity to do this especially in the prison setting."
Dr. Daniel Burch has worked with Huffman and the other graduates.
"What I see is a developing self-confidence, an expanding self-esteem, a sense of 'I can do something other than what I've been doing in my life thus far," Burch said.
"This is what I enjoy. This is my passion. I really have a desire to take it further, as far as college and everything else is concerned," Huffman said.
The students spent years completing six modules of American Sign Language and interpretation instruction, and interned for six months specializing in areas including mental health, death culture, and religious interpretation.
This is the first program of it's kind in the country. Huffman and five other graduates from both the 2012 and 2013 classes have earned national certifications. This means they can interpret for mayors and other leaders.