In Focus

Goodness and Mercy

By Kathryn Howe

Alumnus Andy Hayward helps prisoners at the Anamosa State Penitentiary earn their high school degrees.


nside a quiet classroom in Anamosa, students file in and take their seats for another math lesson from teacher Andy Hayward ’06. The material he’s prepared today is typical of any high school curriculum. The setting is anything but.

This class is about to take place at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, where Hayward has been a high school equivalency instructor since 2015. The students solving these algebra problems wear prison uniforms here because they’ve stolen property, committed assault, sold drugs, or even murdered.

But they are also here to turn their lives around. Hayward and his fellow instructors pave the way toward redemption, helping offenders prepare for the HiSET high school equivalency test and finally obtain their long-awaited diplomas.

Some may be only a couple months away from their goal; others are a couple years from truly being ready. They all have one thing in common, though: the desire to finish their education in hopes of a brighter future.

“These guys are motivated, appreciative, and determined to get their diplomas, which is a great step toward re-entering their communities,” says Hayward. “I enjoy working with them.”

The Anamosa prison offers the education program through a contract with Kirkwood Community College. In fact, Anamosa is among nine Iowa facilities that have partnerships with their local community colleges to offer an on-site school. Hayward is one of six Anamosa teachers who prep students for the HiSET test through classes in math, reading, writing, science, language arts, and social studies. The class schedule runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., much like any other public school. Because offenders are in different stages of their education, Hayward and his colleagues modify and customize instruction to meet individual needs.

Iowa law requires offenders under 21 years old to work toward their diplomas. For a high percentage of the prison population, the pursuit of continued education is part of a treatment program. Seventy people participate in Anamosa’s prison school with more than 200 on the waiting list. This cap keeps class size low, to around 15 students. In total, the Anamosa facility has 950 medium- to maximum-security  prisoners, including 225 individuals serving a life sentence.

Nicole Chambers, education coordinator at Anamosa and Hayward’s supervisor, says the program opens up opportunities that these individuals otherwise wouldn’t have, offering the chance to grow and change. Chambers admires Hayward’s work ethic and his dedication to go above and beyond for his students. As long as an inmate appears to be trying, Hayward will go the extra mile to make sure he learns the material—whether that’s printing extra worksheets or staying after class to tutor.

Besides math, Hayward has also taught language arts, science, and literacy to inmates with a below-third-grade reading level.

“Andy truly cares whether these guys get their diploma,” Chambers says. “He will do what it takes to help them succeed.”

“It’s rewarding to see that feeling of pride my students get when their hard work is successful, and they take a step toward their dream,” Andy Hayward ’06 says.

Beyond the opportunity to finish their high school education, offenders also benefit from an apprenticeship program through which they can receive instruction and job training in 19 occupations, including welding, cabinet making, computers, and food service. Offenders can also gain work experience through Iowa Prison Industries, which employs incarcerated men and women in jobs that include wood working, upholstery, and print press operation—producing many of the street signs, license plates, and school furniture pieces used across the state. These programs work in concert to give offenders the tools they need to ultimately stay out of prison.

In this way, Hayward considers his work a valuable community service, and he finds inspiration in the compassion and hope extended to people despite their terrible mistakes.

Hayward’s merciful heart for his community extends back to 2002 when he first moved to Iowa. Originally from Ithaca, New York, Hayward earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Cornell University. He then decided to volunteer for AmeriCorps and arrived in Coralville, where one of his projects was teaching English as a second language to African refugees through the Institute for Social and Economic Development. Upon hearing positive feedback about Mount Mercy, Hayward went on to obtain his secondary education degree.

He taught English at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids for the next decade. He loved the school community, but grew restless for change.

That’s when he learned about the program at Anamosa.

“It’s rewarding to see that feeling of pride my students get when their hard work is successful, and they take a step toward their dream,” Hayward says. “At this point in my career, I’m where I need to be.” ■