Looking back upon the experience of creating a course, seeking approval for it, and teaching it, I see tremendous growth in myself. And I see more. I have now come to a greater understanding of what it takes to be a prison educator and what it means to be prisoner-student. Now that I’ve been on both sides of the desk, I feel a sense of understanding I didn’t previously possess, a calm knowledge beckoning me to come forth in the arena that we call prison education.

Throughout this process, I have gone through struggles. I found closed doors when I thought they should have been open. I found a student who signed up for the course, yet refused to even attend one class, stripping another prisoner-student of a seat. And I found, and became well acquainted with, my fear of public speaking.

Throughout this process, I found tremendous successes. I saw men who had been worn down rise to the challenge. I watched as uninspired men became inspired and crafted amazing works. And I perceived the birth of light in eyes where before only darkness resided. That light was the light of hope – a hope that might ferry them out of the abyss of self-indulgence to the land of the living.

But perhaps the most astounding change I found occurred within me. For a flame has been ignited, a passion to teach the downtrodden. To me, it is not just about teaching, but about changing lives. I know that for once in my life I am part of the solution, not the problem. I know that anyone can wind up inside a federal prison. But I also know that if an idiot like me can turn his life around from inside a federal prison, then anyone can do that, too. All they need is the proper tools to do so.

I have seen a change in myself. This is a change that has slowly, but surely, taken over my life and my work. The change is a focus on others rather than me. This change can’t be attributed to the caustic prison environment or the callous characters that inhabit this place. This change has come about through the process of seeking and obtaining an education, plain and simple.

From the dungeons of the McDowell County Detention Center, where I wasn’t even allowed to receive a book, to the relatively calm confines of FCI-Petersburg, I have struggled against my situation to obtain an education. But as I sit here tonight, at 12:14 a.m. with two book lights lighting up my desk and my cellmate snoring a foot-and-a-half away, all I can feel is an enormous sense of gratitude and hope. Gratitude to my readers, my students, and to those in the Education Department, who thought enough of me to allow me, a 25-year-old federal prisoner, to teach a class and even renew it, too. I now look to the unknown future, the potential it holds. And I gaze ahead with expectancy rather than skepticism.

I’ll leave you today and end this last update with a thought. I am one of many, one of many who threw our lives away for oh such frivolous pursuits. I am also one of few. One who has turned his life around, grown a set of morals, and realigned my ideals to those that civilized society deems of value. With every fiber of my being, I attribute this to the education I have obtained while in prison. I can only hope I might help just one other person do what I have done. Then, and only then, will all of this be worth it.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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