Cosby salutes prison grads


ENFIELD, Conn. (AP) – Comedian Bill Cosby blended humor and some tough talk as he saluted a group of prison inmates who received their high school equivalency diplomas Monday.

Cosby, who holds a doctorate in education and has been an advocate for black academic achievement, has challenged black Americans on issues such as education, out-of-wedlock births and absentee fathers.

He repeated those themes before a captive audience of 27 graduates clad in caps and gowns, their families and other inmates who are participating in the high school GED program.

“This is a different kind of graduation for me,” he said at the graduation ceremony at Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, a discharge facility where prisoners make their last stop before being released. “Usually, the graduates get to go home.”

“Obviously, you weren’t too bright and obviously what you needed was some time to think and some time to reflect on your attitude and how you are and who you are,” Cosby told the young men. “What you did was stupid, but you’re not stupid.”

He urged the inmates to avoid the bad influences that contributed to their imprisonment.

“It’s not rough out there. It’s rough where you put yourself,” Cosby said. “If you’re going to sit with the people who put you here you’re coming back.”

Robert Redente Jr., 26, who was sentenced to up to four years on a narcotics conviction, said he promised friends and family nine years ago he would earn his high school equivalency degree.

“Quitting high school was a decision I wish I never made,” he said in a graduation speech.

Cosby, who once earned a high school equivalency degree, told graduates who are fathers to do all they can for their children.

“The children happen to need you,” he said. “You have to show up by any means necessary. You have to make some contact. You have to send some money. Even if you only have 35 cents, send it.”

AP-ES-07-23-07 1513EDT