COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla., ( WCJB) -- Florida is one of several states to allow inmates to enroll in post-secondary education through the second chance pell pilot program.
The First Step Act which was signed by President Trump back in December enacted criminal justice reform to help inmates successfully transition back into society.
"I've been incarcerated for almost 17 years," stated John Wise.
Virginia native John Wise moved to Florida in 1990, and in 2002 found himself in prison with a sentence of 22 years for second-degree murder.
In 2016 Wise transferred to the Columbia County Correctional Institution to join the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program.
And two years later he's the ceremony's student speaker graduating with honors and an associates degree.
"Its help me do my time, it helped it past a lot better and faster for me. Its also helped me gain a better understanding of the material that I'm supposed to be understanding and graduating with. And helping other people has made me stronger as well," stated Wise.
Wise's family were among those in the crowd cheering on the graduates.
"As a mom, they just gave my son a degree, that's fabulous. And we're very appreciative, we'll always be appreciative of gateway college and the state of Florida for having the initiative to bring a program like this in for the kids," stated Linda Wise, John's mother.
Wise is one of more than 40 inmates to walk across the stage and says he's thankful for the opportunity.
"In the time that I've been incarcerated I've spent a lot of time frustrated that I didn't have anything better to do but to go to the rec year, now that the department of corrections is bringing in programs like this it's improving our ability to actually do something more productive with our time," stated Wise.
Wise has completed many programs throughout his time of incarceration and is now looking forward to a future an insurance actuary after his release.
The partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Gateway College introduced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program to helps inmates pursue a college education.
The goal is that upon release they will be better prepared to enter the workforce to be able to provide a life for themselves.