When someone struggles with being in and out of the criminal justice system, it can be difficult to break the cycle. For many of these individuals, education becomes a solution to make that happen. Cortez Adkins, 23, enrolled at The Excel Center®, Goodwill’s high school for adults, in 2017 seeking a change in his life.

Cortez struggled with attending school regularly because he was often in trouble. He ultimately dropped out of high school at 16 years old.

“I had a lot of absences because I was in and out of jail or expelled, which stopped me from getting my diploma,” Cortez said. “School is different for me now because I’m older. I was always running the streets and school just was not a priority.”

Today, Cortez’s daughter encourages him through this journey, and the resources at The Excel Center make it possible for him to attend.

“I have a three-year-old daughter, and she is one my of biggest motivators,” Cortez said. “She comes to school with me every day. If it wasn’t for the free child care, I wouldn’t be able to come.”

The Excel Center staff plays a big role in students’ lives, especially during hard times. Cortez has been able to lean on their support and keep coming back, even after a few voluntary breaks.

“Everyone is so supportive, especially my coach I always let her know what’s going on in my personal life, and she communicates it with everyone,” Cortez said. “I would tell her that I will return once my personal issues have settled and have always kept that promise. That makes my coach proud of me. I know if I don’t do it right this time, I won’t do it all.”

Cortez believes his return to high school and his completion is important to other family members who are looking to him as an example.

“I have younger cousins who are going through the same thing I did and they are looking up to me now,” Cortez said. “I keep telling them life gets harder when you get older if you don’t have a diploma or GED because you get turned down for jobs.”

Cortez said the culture and circumstances in his hometown are impact the education of students, especially young black men.

“I’m just trying to show my cousins that it’s possible to achieve their education,” Cortez said. “You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have an education, you don’t have anything.”

Cortez encourages other young men who have a similar past to him to pursue education because it can make a major difference in their future.

“For me, my freedom was on the line. I knew if I didn’t do this, then I would end up in a penitentiary,” Cortez said. “The Excel Center kept me out of jail, and I know it could do the same for someone else.”

Cortez plans to complete all of his courses by the end of 2018 and is expected to graduate in 2019. He hopes to pursue a career in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) post-graduation.

To enroll at The Excel Center, visit excelcenter.org/enroll.