Principal pushes juvenile prisoners forward

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Principal Audrey Armistad (center) speaks with students at the Augusta Youth Development Campus . She said having the opportunity to change lives is one of the best parts of the job.

Audrey Armistad is known affectionately as the Rottweiler, unafraid to go nose to nose with juveniles imprisoned at Augusta's Youth Development Campus.

 

But the in-your-face approach is welcomed by the teens locked up behind the chain-link fences and razor wire, recognizing that their school principal cares and wants only the best for them.

"She doesn't mess around," said Seth MacKinnon, 16. "She'll crack down. She'll put her fist down."

But Seth said Dr. Armistad is looking out for him, keeping him safe.

"I've gone through some tough times here, but she has really helped me," he said.

Since 2000, Dr. Armistad, 46, has worked at the YDC, serving as the facility's principal for most of that time.

"The education piece has been in my family forever," she said. "I think I found where I really need to be when I got (to the YDC)."

Dr. Armistad described a "shake-up" when first hired, and she began surrounding herself with people who shared her passion and beliefs.

"Because you're here, I believe the only way you're going to turn your life around is through quality education," she said. "I try not to deal with any criminal records. I don't even want to look at them. I deal solely with education records."

On her office wall hangs the Augusta YDC slogan: Changing lives through quality education.

"My family always wants to know 'Why do you want to work in a prison? Why do you want to do this?' " Dr. Armistad said.

She said most educators reflect on their career and think of children they've influenced.

"I can probably say that every day I make a difference in the life of a kid," Dr. Armistad said.

For instance, there were her "nine amigos," a group of nine students who began serving time together, studied together, supported one another and 36 months later graduated together, a feat she called her most rewarding experience.

"Her presence is felt when she enters," Marcus Smith, 18, said, describing her as strong and nurturing. "She's all about education. She's played a major role in my life."

He said Dr. Armistad pushes her students because she wants them to fulfill their potential.

Carlos Ramirez, 18, also said she has helped him in many ways.

"When I needed help, she was there for me," he said.

He said that because of Dr. Armistad his future is brighter today than when he was first sentenced to the YDC.

She began at the YDC in June 2000, calling it the hardest summer job she had ever undertaken. Classes were in session because school is held year round at the YDC.

"When I first got here, I didn't know a place like this existed," Dr. Armistad said, referring to the tight security and juvenile confinement.

She had worked for 10 years as a teacher and six as an administrator in Terrell County in southwest Georgia, but her husband was assigned to Fort Gordon.

Dr. Armistad wanted out of the YDC soon after arriving, talking of leaving by August, but one of her students overheard and grew concerned that someone who truly cared for them would leave. That was all it took to keep her, she said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

AUDREY ARMISTAD

AGE: 46

EXPERIENCE: 23 years in education

POSITION: Principal of the Augusta Youth Development Campus

EDUCATION: History degree from Paine College, master's from Troy State University and a doctorate from Argosy University

FAMILY: Married, no children

QUOTE: "I always tell people, 'I have 114 kids.' They say 'What?' "

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