How Rebecca defies age and sentence for a new start


“Age is just a number; you should try what you want at any age. You’re never too old to learn something new.”


Rebecca had worked for a time in nursing, started a family, and earned herself a job as a Regional Manager for a retail chain. “Then I ended up getting a few DWIs and that’s what brought me to prison,” she says.

With a 66-month sentence, “I knew I was going to be here for quite a while, and I wanted to do something with my time here. I didn’t want to just—for lack of a better statement—just sit around and do nothing,” says Rebecca. “I wanted to have something to show for my time here.”

A year into her sentence, the opportunity came up to study the Cisco Networking Academy program, in the newly-established Academy at the Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee.

Following her interests

“Technology has always been an interest for me, so I thought this would be a good start for me. I thought it wouldn’t hurt for me to try it and see how much I really truly enjoyed it,” she says.

As one of four students in the pilot of the program, with no internet access or physical equipment to configure, Rebecca was challenged.

“Once we started, I thought ‘oh goodness, I’m not going to be able to do this.’ It was just way out of my league, at least I thought,” she says.

“I’m very much a hands-on learner,” says Rebecca. “To have that equipment, for me, it would have been a lot easier to visualize how everything would be set up and work.”

Still, armed with what she calls her ‘Bible’—the ‘Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching’ book—and Cisco’s Packet Tracer network simulation tool, course materials, and an instructor who made all the difference, Rebecca overcame her self-doubt.

Helpful instruction

“When I first started the program, I was really struggling,” she says. But she realized that she was retaining more than she had expected after completing the CCNA 1 Packet Tracer and written tests. “I’m like: Oh! Okay I’ve got this,” she says.

“And then we started into CCNA 2 and there was one portion of it that I was ready to just pack it up and walk out,” says Rebecca.

“Having the instructor there to go to and say: ‘I’m really not getting this’ and then having her explain to me ‘Do you understand this part? Do you understand that part?’ Then we could focus more on what I wasn’t getting… that really helped me, and it made me have more confidence to move forward,” she says.

“I know that when I got to a part that I was stuck on that there was somebody that was going to be there that was ‘Okay, let’s walk through this. Let’s learn this. Let’s make sure you get this.’”

“Either the instructor or that Bible I’ve gone to, to help me through things,” says Rebecca. “And I’ve gone to my fellow students also, we kind-of worked as a team.”

A brighter future

Her perseverance has paid off, and Rebecca aims to sit for her CCNA in the next few months. And by taking part in the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ voluntary Challenge Incarceration Program—a military boot camp-style program with intensive supervision after release—Rebecca is due for early release shortly.

Back in the community, Rebecca hopes to work in a network support position.

Rebecca says her daughter “knew I always had an interest in computers but… she’s heard me talk about it so much that she didn’t think I would actually jump into it,” she says. “And now that I’m almost done and I’m hoping to walk out of here with my certification, she’s proud! You know, I’m not young anymore—I just turned 50—and she’s like ‘See even someone at your age can go back to school, mom!’”

It seems Rebecca has enjoyed the challenge and intends to challenge herself even further. “I’ve been considering going back to school and continuing to get my cybersecurity certificate,” she says.

“I think that anybody who wants to learn something new shouldn’t be afraid to try it,” says Rebecca. And while she regrets that the opportunity came up as a result of being incarcerated, she’s on a path to learning more, and to having a brighter future.



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