Instead of caps and gowns, the men taking part in a graduation ceremony at the Spartanburg County jail wore striped jump-suits and orange rubber shoes.
Judging by their reaction, the traditional garb was hardly missed.
The Tuesday ceremony celebrated the inmates who went through daily education classes designed to make them job-ready for when they return to society. It was an effort created by jail staff earlier this year to reduce recidivism.
The group of eight, the jail's second Operation Educate class, ranked higher in test scores than the state and national averages within the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, said Robert Leslie, the dean of corporate and community education at Spartanburg Community College.
The program included staff and resources from the SCC, the Upstate Workforce Investment Board and Vocational Rehabilitation.
"It does take a village, and we can be that village, to make it a better place to live," said Maj. Neal Urch, the jail's director.
The first graduation ceremony for Operation Educate was held earlier this year for another group of eight inmates, none of whom have become repeat offenders upon graduation and being released from jail, Urch said.
The first class was all female.
Operation Educate gives inmates a chance to change their lives and be productive while in jail so they can contribute to society once they are out, Urch said.
"There are bad people … but there are also good people who have just made bad choices," he said.
Justin Haygood, 25, who has been in jail since October and faces methamphetamine and financial transaction card fraud charges, said he wanted to be in the program to learn to better provide for his family.
After graduating, he was greeted by his wife, Dana, son, Elijah and father, Chris, who came from Texas to see him.
Haygood said he is scheduled to be released from jail Wednesday.
"I'm going home. I'm going to get me a job and I'm going to live life," he said with his an arm wrapped around his wife. "I'm not worried about shooting for the top or nothing, I'm going to take it one day at a time."
Sheriff Chuck Wright spoke to the graduates and shook each of their hands before the ceremony concluded.
"I want you to be encouraged. Be the fathers you know you can be. Be the husbands you know you can be," he said. "Be encouraged, gentleman. Be bold."