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Prison inmate hopes GED is steppingstone to future health career

POSTED: January 4, 2014 11:57 p.m.

A corrections officer pulls a barred door closed Thursday at the Hall County Correctional Institute.

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At 40 years old, Lendell wants to go back to school and become a certified personal trainer. He plans to use that certification as a stepping stone to go further in the health field, possibly as either a nutritionist or physical therapist.

The Los Angeles native is one step closer to realizing that dream, having earned his GED in November 2013.

“I never had it,” he said. “It was just something to have, something to do. Might as well make my time productive while I’m here.”

“Here” is the Hall County Correctional Institute, where Lendell is at the beginning of a 15-year sentence for a trafficking marijuana conviction. It’s not the first time he’s been in trouble with the law, but he plans for it to be the last.

“I just never focused on getting my stuff together,” he said. “Now, I have a lot of time to think about it, and I’m not trying to be in this position again.”

Lendell could have been a personal trainer; in fact, he’s taken the online classes so thinks it should be easy enough to earn his certification once out of prison. In the past, he helped train people — he loves to be in the gym — but the lure of easy money was too much for the high school dropout.

He would have graduated in 1991, but instead left school just a few months beforehand. Almost instantly, he was arrested and spent 10 months of his early adulthood in a California prison on drug charges.

It’s the only life he’s known. Trafficking marijuana means a lot of money.

“You know, it’s legal in California,” he said, referring to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. “So you can get more money for it down here (in Georgia).

“I think I just got hooked with the easy, fast money,” he added. “I just never focused on getting stuff together.”

But events two years ago caused Lendell to take a harder look at his life.

It was January 2012, and Lendell was on Interstate 20 driving from Atlanta to Alabama.

“The police, he pulled me over illegally, searched my vehicle,” he said. “He asked me could he search the vehicle. I told him no, he couldn’t.”

The officer who pulled him over had a police dog. According to Lendell, the dog circled the car twice but did not alert his handler that he had sensed anything. Regardless, the officer told Lendell the dog had alerted to a substance in the car, and conducted the search, Lendell said.

A news report from the Douglas County Sentinel said law enforcement found more than 100 pounds of marijuana in Lendell’s car that night.

Lendell is adamant he was wronged by law enforcement. He doesn’t deny the charges against him, but doesn’t think he deserved to have his car pulled over and searched.

“I’m like, you’re just going to illegally search and violate my rights right now,” he said about that January night. “I’m knowing all of this is being recorded, so I have all this in my favor. All I have to do is get a lawyer.”

But in court, Lendell said the recordings were manipulated. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years, with seven to serve.

“I think it’s kind of harsh,” he said. “Georgia’s got some strict laws. I’ve learned my lesson.”

That lesson is to never wind up in prison again.

Looking back, he wishes he went back to school. He thinks a diploma may have helped change the trajectory of his life, though of course it’s impossible to know that for certain.

“I still don’t know, to this day, why I just didn’t go back and finish and get my diploma,” he said. “The GED was easy to me. Even the (test administrator) said I was a pretty sharp person. All my kids are smart.”

Even from behind bars, he tries to push his children to succeed in school, something his parents never did with him.

“I don’t think my parents pressured me enough to go back and get (my diploma),” he said. “You know what I mean? Like, I was too busy listening to other people in the streets to not go back and do what I was supposed to do.

“I kind of blame it on my parents, kind of. Because I didn’t know no better. I think it’s our job as parents to teach our kids the right way.”

Lendell has three children, ages 18, 14 and 6, all living in California. His oldest daughter graduated from high school last year, but he talks to his 14-year-old son on the phone and has promised to let him use his truck if he stays in school and earns high grades.

“I think education is the key to staying free,” he said. “If you’re not smart and you’re just dumb and you want to sell drugs and rob people, you’re going to be right back up in here if you don’t try to do something with yourself and make it productive. You’ll be right back up in here.

“I’m 40 years old,” he said quietly, almost to himself. “This is the longest I’ve ever been locked up in my life. I can’t see how they keep coming back and forth. I can’t do it.”


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