A group of students at Lipscomb University received their college degree on Friday from behind prison bars.
Nine women, eight of whom are from the Tennessee Prison for Women, received their associate degrees during a graduation ceremony held by Lipscomb at the prison's gymnasium.
They were the university's first graduating class to earn an associate degree.
One of the graduates, Erica East, is 12 years into a long sentence, but never thought part of her journey would lead here.
"I always wanted to go to college, but got married and life took over, and just thought that would be a dream to the side," she told News 2.
While on stage accepting her diploma, inmate Tabitha Slak thanked everyone that helped make her degree possible.
"Starting out seven years ago, I didn't know who I was, and Lipscomb and all the other graduates have helped me turn into the women I am today," she said.
They were able to receive their education as part of the Lipscomb Initiative for Education, a program that provides college courses at the prison each semester.
"As an educational institution, we have an opportunity to educate everyone, no matter what their place in life is," said David Scobey with the school.
The school sends faculty members to the prison every Wednesday evening to teach courses in subjects like art history, judicial process, Christian ethics, community engagement, math, English and physics.
"These ladies have worked harder than probably anybody else to get this degree," said Jeanne Valentin, a math professor.
All of the women who received their degrees started taking classes in January of 2007.