Misti Hearon has been locked up for five months in the Blount County jail.
Convicted of stealing for drug money, her prospects didn't look good. She signed up to get her GED, not expecting much out of the class or herself.
That was before she met her teacher, Al North.
"He let me know that he believes in me. If you can find one person that believes in you in the whole world, you can believe in yourself. Five months ago he believed in me. Now we believe in me," Hearon said.
Five days a week, North teaches groups of inmates how to pass a test. But he's also giving them something to be proud of: a sense of worth.
"I had you write about anger. I know for some of you that was a challenge to emotionally deal with anger," North said in a lecture Tuesday.
So far, North has helped nearly 300 inmates receive their GED and Career Readiness Certificates. And word is getting around inside the jail.
"We have 12 on the waiting list and 12 in the class. We could double the class right now," he said speaking of one his groups.
North tries to tailor the lessons so that the inmates can relate to them. But works to make sure they do not feel like they are in a jail, while taking his class.
"I remind them when they come into the room. I don't care what you did in the past. I don't see the stripes," North said.
Hearon has received both her CRC and GED. She said another inmate has watched her success and told her that it inspired her.
"I've never done anything but destroy people's lives. My friends, my family, my kids. For somebody to say your are an inspiration. You are who I want to be like... What is that?"
North believes that learning is contagious in the jail atmosphere. It's something he hopes to inspire them to continue learning when they leave the jail.
"We've had a number of people who have continued their education and for me that's the success," he said.
Now when Hearon steps out in the real world next week, she'll have something to put on her resume.
"It's amazing how much different I feel about when I step out there. I'm not alone when I walk out that door," Hearon said.
But more importantly she will have a confidence that doesn't come from a text book
North started as a volunteer teacher after a long career in marketing and now works part time for Blount County Adult Basic Education Program.