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Five McNaughton inmates graduate from first-ever program at Nicolet CollegeSubmitted: 06/18/2018

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RHINELANDER - Wearing his black gown and mortarboard, Derek Pranke looked every bit the part of a proud graduate on Monday afternoon.

"We all pulled straight A's," Pranke said of his graduating class.

But Pranke knew his outfit beat the one he got used to wearing the last few years.

"[Class was] better than wasting time and just sitting and doing nothing in prison," Pranke said.


Pranke has spent the last 9 months at McNaughton Correctional facility near Lake Tomahawk. It's one of the final legs of a 3 1/2-year prison sentence for his role in a Wisconsin burglary (Pranke describes it as he was tricked into being the getaway driver for a felony crime.)

For the last 14 weeks, Pranke and four other inmates went to Nicolet in Rhinelander to take the college's mechanical maintenance program. The inmates learned about hydraulics, pneumatic operation, and even got training in how to perform CPR.  The five student-inmates each earned a degree which they can use to land jobs after their release.

"[We want them to] gain successful re-entry and not come back to prison, that's our goal," Department of Corrections Secretary Cathy Jess said outside the graduation ceremony.

The Department of Corrections has offered many school programs within the walls of its correctional facilities over the years, but in the last few years the DOC used grant funding to help pay for the on-campus programs. Pranke's class was the first to go through the program at Nicolet College.

"We take students all the time with different backgrounds, different barriers, different histories," Nicolet College Career Pathways Coordinator Toni Van Doren said.

Van Doren says bringing McNaughton inmates to campus did force the college to re-evaluate how instructors teach and reach all students, especially when it came to web-based learning, which the inmates didn't have access to. Van Doren views that brought an unexpected benefit for the college as a whole.

Van Doren estimates the degrees the inmates earned could land them a job in any manufacturing plant in the state, allowing them to make $15 to $25 per hour as a starting wage.

"They were some of our best students," Van Doren said of the inmates. "I mean, they really put in the time and effort."

Fourteen weeks of hard work which were all worth it to Pranke, who was honored as the student speaker during Monday's ceremony. Pranke can't wait to finish his sentence, get a job, and show his children how prison and school changed him for the better.

"It's a good lesson for them," Pranke said of his three children, who were at the ceremony. "Don't screw up, but if you do screw up, you can always better yourself."

Nicolet plans to continue the McNaughton program in the fall, with the coursework focused on welding.

Pranke expects his release date to come right around Christmas this year.


Story By: Lane Kimble

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 LOCAL NEWS

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LAKE TOMAHAWK - Camp American Legion recently opened up for visitors this year, but campers will notice some big changes.

The entire top floor of the main building was redone with new flooring and new bathrooms. The camp also cleared the way to put in concrete outside the front entrance to be used as a future spot for music and other outdoor gatherings.

But those aren't the only projects underway. 

"The other one that we worked on was the front entrance and the sunroom entrance out here actually on the second floor, and that got a complete facelift on it also," said Camp Director Don Grundy. "We got stone work on the outside, all new windows, that we'll now be able to use these spaces in the winter." 

Grundy hopes to be able to have winter programming in the future. The camp will also have a grand opening for a new building for families of the fallen this coming Wednesday.


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HARSHAW -
A culvert that collapsed after the weekend rainfall has caused Rocky Run Road west of Hwy 51 in Harshaw to be closed according to Cassian Town Chairman Tim Augustine. 


Augustine said in an email that the culvert is unsafe to be driven over. The Cassian Town Board has been working with property owners to get the culvert project underway. 

Construction to replace culvert is currently scheduled for July.

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NORTHWOODS - The storms from the past few days have caused the Rainbow Reservoir near Lake Tomahawk to overflow to a height it hasn't reached in decades.

Two out of the five dam gates opened on Friday.

The water underneath the dam and reservoir reaches flood stage at six feet.

According to the National Weather Service, the water was measured at 6.48 feet Monday afternoon.

That's a height the water hasn't reached since the 1940's.

"I've never seen it like this before," said Lisa Dahlke who owns a house on the Wisconsin River near Rainbow Lake.

The water coming out of the dam is being released a little faster than 3,000 cubic feet per second.

"I don't know how much fishing we are going to get in but the high water kind of messes that up," said fisherman Dan Eiden.

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NORTHWOODS - "I have not seeing anything like this," said Mark Schoppe as he stared into a giant hole on part of the Tuscobia Trail. 

Over the weekend, a large whole ended up on part of the trail because of the storm.

"This part of the trail which is a railroad bed runs 75 miles from Rice Lake to Park Falls," said Schoppe. 

Schoppe is a member of the Sno-Gypsies Snowmobile Club out of Park Falls. He says this type of damage could take a while to fix.

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 REGIONAL NEWS

NORTHWESTERN WI - Heavy rains have caused an earthen dam to fail in a rural area of northwestern Wisconsin.

Douglas County Emergency Management Director Keith Kesler says he's unaware of any evacuations from the damage Monday. Few people live in the area.

Kesler says water is overtopping the Radigan Flowage Dam west of Dairlyland after several days of rain.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Supreme Court rules against Wisconsin Democrats in the fight over the drawing of legislative boundaries.

Democrats believe current maps give Republicans an unfair advantage in elections.

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WINNEBAGO, WI - People should be on the lookout of two men that escaped from the Winnebago Correctional Center.

James Heather and Alexander Weinmann escaped from the minimum security prison recently.

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MADISON - Only white men have served as governor in Wisconsin. It's a track record that three Democrats are looking to shatter this year.

Two women, Kelda Roys and Kathleen Vinehout, and one black man, Mahlon Mitchell, could make history if they win the primary and defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The other seven Democratic candidates are white men, just like every other governor in Wisconsin history.

Wisconsin is one of 28 states where at least one woman is expected to run for governor. Mitchell is one of at least eight black candidates running for governor nationwide.

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