Well, it has certainly been a ride. Tonight a grand total of 11 students sat for the first ever ‘Writing and Publishing’ final examination. But before we reach the statistical analysis, please allow me to brief you on the week prior.

This week was filled with two primary activities. These were the class notes for my next group and the revisions to the handbook for my proposed Correspondence Course Seminar. The class notes were certainly the hassle of the two.

Since I lack access to a true word processor, I have to write all of my notes out by hand and sit at a computer terminal for 30 minutes at a time to type my notes. The reason for the 30-minute time frame is because the computer system will only allow me to utilize the email feature for that amount of time. After 30 minutes I have to wait 30 minutes to log on again. All of this makes my life revolve around a 30 minute cycle. This can go on and on when I have a large paper, article, or blog to work on. Each blog alone usually takes me around 3 hours on the computer.

This week I completed and typed the notes for weeks one and two. I also completed the homework assignments and made the revisions to the curriculum. The notes for weeks one and two came out to around 7,000 to 8,000 words, a hefty sum. Because of email limits (13,000 characters per email), and organizational considerations, it took 11 emails to send all of the above. These emails will now be paginated, properly formatted (something I can’t do with my email program), and mailed back to me. This is the same process I have to go through with the blog, with the exception that it is posted instead of mailed back to me.

As for the handbook revisions, I received the first paginated hard copy on Wednesday. Upon receiving it I immediately got to work. This is because of my Thursday night deadline. This is another headache that I have to put up with. Mail is only delivered from Monday through Friday and is only picked up from Sunday night through Thursday night. So mail revolves around this cycle. If I want to get something out before Monday, I have to mail it on Thursday. Boy, do I miss Fed-Ex!

The rest of the week progressed nicely. On Wednesday I had a 2:00 p.m. call-out in the Education Department. This was to be a meeting for Adult Continuing Education instructors, but upon arriving at 2:00 p.m. I was alerted that the meeting had been canceled. Then, Thursday night, as I was in the middle of a Frisbee practice, an announcement was made for all Adult Continuing Education instructors to report to the Education Department at 7:00 p.m. Covered with sweat, I trudged up there.

Once there, we discussed a number of topics with the staff member who is over the Adult Continuing Education courses and Bill Batton, her prisoner counterpart. Out of this meeting came several developments, one of which was the completion rates. I would transcribe them here, but it was decided that they needed to be reworked. For example, my class was listed in second place with an 85% completion rate. But the number of initial students was not correct. Plus, I still had to administer the final examination. So the numbers are still in flux.

The three primary focuses of this meeting for me, which only lasted around 40 minutes, were the new Adult Continuing Education courses, my new classroom and time, and the certificates. I will be writing a separate blog on the new classes, so please allow me to discuss the other two now.

My new class will meet Monday nights, from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. I requested a change so that my class wouldn’t conflict with the institutional movie, something people look forward to, and my Frisbee season. So I’m pleased with this change. The other big news is that I am being given the large classroom, the one that holds around 18 prisoner-students as opposed to 15 prisoner-students. Though, since I have a waiting list of 17 prisoner-students already, I will be pushing for a larger student body. In laymen’s terms this means more chairs placed in the classroom. Regardless, the fact that I’ve been given the big classroom on Monday nights really does please me. It shows me that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and that my actions are appreciated.

Along the same lines of being appreciated is the certificate that was issued to me by the Education Department. It reads:


This certificate is in appreciation of Christopher Zoukis for teaching in the field of Adult Continuing Education.”

It then goes on to note my course name, Writing and Publishing, and is signed by the Adult Continuing Education Coordinator and the Supervisor of Education. It finishes by reading:


This really meant a lot to me. I know that a certificate is just a certificate, but to see my name on something that thanks me for “teaching in the field of Adult Continuing Education” really flattered me. The certificate served to affirm my work and my passion. It was as if I am now officially an educator. This is something that I will cherish. I guess that I don’t always receive thanks for a lot I do. This isn’t a gripe, but a fact. So when thanks do come, especially when I work really hard in the process of receiving them, it makes it mean that much more to me.

As Friday night came around I was ready to get this final examination out of the way. The only scheduling issue was the time at which my unit was released to chow. Since my unit had a bad inspection score we were last for chow. This meant I couldn’t be at the library by 5 p.m. I spoke to my unit officer about being released early so I could tutor my students prior to the exam. Unfortunately, in between him screaming, singing, and dancing, all to the amusement of the idiots, he said no. So I had to wait until around 5:45 to get to my students. Do note that I skip chow on Friday nights so I can do private tutoring prior to each class.

Upon arriving in the Education Department, I found my classroom was yet again taken. This actually pleased me because it meant I would utilize a different classroom – my new classroom. This not only afforded me the opportunity to preview my classroom, but to better proctor the final examination since it has a more formal setup, allowing me to sit in the front of the room and be facing all of my students.

I met up with Bill Batton, the Adult Continuing Education prisoner coordinator, and Christopher Hannigan, the previous Home Inspection instructor. We discussed the Education Behind Bars Newsletter, the new press release , and my logos. Usually we like to unwind and hang out for a bit, but today we were swamped with my students who arrived early. We couldn’t have our usual chit-chat session because of the students. Instead, we quickly ran through all of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter materials and I excused myself to tutor one of my students.

The student I needed to tutor wasn’t in class last week because he had a visit from his family. So I ran through the same materials I ran through with everyone else in class. I was fairly surprised with how well he did. He probably missed about three of the questions during our session. After we ran through the exam, we relaxed for a few minutes and discussed his current writing project. I always find it interesting to hear what my students are working on outside of class. More often than not, they will note how the class has inspired them to move forward. Sometimes they even ask for my assistance with editing or personally contributing, or giving them some direction.

We ended our discussion with me noticing that he had several letters ready to go to around 7 prisoner publications. These were places I had told the class about a few weeks ago. I saw that he didn’t have any stamps on them. He explained to me that he wanted to try his hand in the prisoner publications before moving on to the general ones, something that I’ve heartily recommended. Upon inquiring as to when he was going to mail them he told me that he would do so when he managed to get a few stamps together. At this I pulled out the clear plastic case that I use to hold my ID card, copy cards, and stamps. Since the man was working hard, and didn’t have the money to buy the required stamps, I pulled out a book of stamps (set of 20 stamps) and started peeling them off and handing them to him. At first he was a little taken aback and tried to decline, but I ignored him and just kept on passing them to him. By the time we hit around 10 stamps he had enough.

To me, as is the same with my parents, if someone is trying to do the right thing but can’t afford a vital step or the materials required, then I will do what I can to assist them. Of course, my assistance is contingent on several factors. For example, this student was a hard worker, was willing to follow my directions, and came across as a good guy. So I was more than willing to help him. If it wasn’t for this trifecta of virtues, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so giving. Long story short, he was willing to do what was required of him, but couldn’t afford the $4.40 in stamps required to do so. At that point it is my turn as his instructor to do what I can to facilitate his progress and growth.

As the 7:00 p.m. move was called, Mr. Batton appeared at my door and called me out into the hallway. He said there was someone I just had to meet. Upon exiting the classroom, a man by the name of John was awaiting me. He informed me that he had been reading this blog. His statement puzzled me. After all, how could a prisoner read a blog unless they had it printed off and mailed to them? To my amazement, he explained that he just came to prison. We really didn’t have much time to talk because of class, so we decided to meet up at 8:00 p.m. after class was over to continue the discussion.

After my students were seated, I opened the discussion with how thankful I was that everyone had consistently shown up to class. I explained that because of their dedication the class was not only being continued, but that I was being given the larger classroom. My gratitude appeared to please them. I really did try to impress upon them their part in the continuation of the class. During this discussion I also explained the changes that were taking place: a larger focus on writing and a smaller focus on publishing, and homework assignments.  The goal was to make the class much more demanding. I also explained that I was thinking about expanding the class by two weeks to afford two solid practicum days. Last, I discussed the possibility of an “Advanced Professional Writing” ACE class. Almost everyone was enthusiastic about the prospect of such a class.

At this point I passed out the final examination. Amazingly, two people failed to show up for the final class. Err! I sat there watching my students. I was watching to make sure no one was taking use of unapproved notes or other unauthorized aids. I like to think of myself as a rather smart guy, so I watched for anyone who might be paying too much attention to me, a sure sign of a cheater. To my relief, I didn’t find anyone.

After about 30 minutes, I received my first finished examination. Well, it was finished on the first page and the last four pages, but he had skipped the second page. I brought the exam back to the gentleman and showed him the skipped page. He apologized and got to work finishing the skipped page. As others finished, I sat there and graded frantically so I would be able to let them know how they did. After completing the grading of the third examination, I told them that I had yet to find a question answered wrong. This greatly surprised me.

Since my final examination was a total of 60 questions (plus one extra credit question worth up to 10 points), I had expected my students to have problems. After all, this examination is the most difficult one of all the Adult Continuing Education courses. A 60 question final is just unheard of. Most reside in the 10-to-25 question range. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

By the time I graded the fifth examination, I saw that no one was going to fail. This delighted me, but concerned me, too. All of these 100s and 100+s worried me. The worry was that I was too generous in the 10-point extra credit question (based upon 10 correct answers). The extra -credit question was to list 10 ways to build one’s platform, each correct answer resulting in one point of extra credit. This is something that will not be included on the final in the future.

As the class period progressed, and everyone was finished with their examinations, I took a moment from grading to promote the other Adult Continuing Education courses. I did so because I felt that as an instructor it was my duty not only to promote the other instructors and their classes, but to encourage my students to continue on in their studies. I am a big fan of life-long learning.

As the 8:00 p.m. move was called, it became clear the final exams would not be graded in time. So as everyone was exiting the classroom, I told them they could meet up with me on Monday night from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Education Department to receive their grades. I also told them they would be placed on call-out to receive their certificates. Then, I made my way to the library for my meeting with John, where I found him at an empty table in a nearly empty library.

The first topic of discussion was how he had heard about me. He explained that he was a self-surrender case, where after sentencing the person is allowed to arrange their affairs before reporting to prison at a stipulated time. This is an option for those considered to be minimal flight risks.

He said that he had searched out FCI-Petersburg on the search engines and on https://web.archive.org/web/20201222145028/http://prisontalk.com/. During his search he came across a mention of this blog and reviewed it. John said the blog gave him hope, because he learned that I had “good days” or “ups.” To him, someone who had never experienced prison, the idea of good days provided consolation. I was honored to hear this.

During our discussion, he noted his previous desire of a detailed explanation of prison, FCI-Petersburg in particular. I told him that he should have emailed me and I would have gladly accommodated him. So to everyone reading this, I am always available for comment, interview, and personal correspondence at Chriszoukis@gmail.com. Please consider me your personal prison consultant…plus, I’m free!

On a quick side note, thank you to whoever is mentioning this blog on https://web.archive.org/web/20201222145028/http://prisontalk.com/. This really means a lot to me. Assistance like this helps me further the cause of prison education. Though, if I could ask a favor, please let me know who you are. A big part of this blog is based upon the networking of prison educators and prisoner-students. Don’t hide, email me.

The rest of my discussion with John revolved around education and prison life. I did what I could to make him feel at ease and welcome. This empathetic nature of mine stems from the hell holes that I went through prior to coming to FCI-Petersburg. I won’t bother you with the details of our didactic discussion, but I will say that I gave him a good 30 minute consultation on all the options available. I think I helped get him on a good, productive track for the time being. Not that he needed that much help. I gave him the harvest of my experience.

Now that we have all of this out of the way, let’s get into the statistical analysis. I am currently in discussions with two of my friends outside of prison and one in prison, regarding a social science paper on these results and the results of my next few classes. One issue that we’re having is a general lack of statistical training. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we’re slow or unlearned. Quite the contrary. Combined, the current brain-trust boasts two theological doctorates, one wildlife biology doctorate, and three master’s degrees in various fields. But none of us are well-versed in conducting or reporting studies. So if any of you reading this blog have experience in this field, I would greatly appreciate any assistance you could provide.

As an introduction to this data, please allow me to brief you on several specifics.

First, to pass the course, the following criteria must be met: a maximum of one unexcused absence, a 70% on the final examination, and attendance during the final class. If any of these are unfulfilled, the prisoner-student automatically fails.

Two, heading into the final examination I was concerned the final was too challenging. So I inserted one extra credit question. This question reads, “List up to 10 ways to build your platform.” For each correct answer the student was awarded one point of extra credit. Because of the grades were so high, I have discontinued the extra-credit question and have removed the extra-credit points awarded in this analysis. In other words, you are reading the students’ true scores.

Last, for reasons unknown, two of my students failed to show for the final class. This greatly lowered my previous project completion percentage. Also note that four other students attended the class at a rate of 25% or less, which reveals more about them than the class. So the completion percentages should be taken with a grain of salt.

The following is a chart on each of my 17 students. To protect each student’s privacy, I have assigned each a numerical ID number from 1 to 17. Note the following abbreviations:

ATTN-Attendance Percentage

ED-Educational Level

GED-General Equivalency Diploma (the official High School Equivalent)

HS-High School Diploma

C-Career Diploma

A-Associate’s Degree

B-Bachelor’s Degree

M-Master’s Degree




ID       ATTN       ED       G                                   P/F

#1       12.5%      *          *                   Fail

#2       87.5%      B         88.725%                      Pass

#3       75%         GED     100%                          Pass

#4       100%       HS       100%          Pass

#5       100%       M         98.25%       Pass

#6       75%         *          *                   Fail

#7       100%       D         100%            Pass

#8       87.5%      A         71.625%    Pass (*1)

#9       0%           *          *                    Fail

#10     12.5%      *          *                 Fail

#11     62.5%      C         96.5%                          Pass

#12     37.5%      *           *                Fail

#13     87.5%      HS       94.75%                       Pass

#14     25%         *           *                  Fail

#15     62.5%      GED      79%                           Pass

#16     100%        HS       96.5%                         Pass

#17     100%        M         100%                         Pass


ED & G: An “*” on the ED/G columns indicate that the student didn’t sit for the final examination and hence didn’t complete the post-examination survey or course. In future courses, the student will be asked to indicate their level of academic achievement during the first class.

*1-With the extra-credit this man passed.

With the above statistics in mind, Writing and Publishing had a 64.7% completion rate. This is a much lower rate than projected due to two no-shows for the final examination. The top score was 100% and the bottom 71.625%. The average score was 93.21% and the median score 96.5%.

The final itself was based upon a total of 49 multiple-choice and True/False questions worth 1.75 points each and 11 vocabulary matching questions worth 1.425 points each. To satisfy your interest, I am enclosing the final examination’s questions along with the correct answers followed by the percentage of correct answers. Since the exam will be different for future classes, there is not a risk of this examination being disseminated to the prisoner population of FCI-Petersburg.


1. An agent typically takes a (15%) commission. [100%]

2. Query letters are used for (both fiction and nonfiction). [81.81%]

3. What does POD stand for? (Print/Printing on Demand). [100%]

4. A query letter should be restricted to one single-spaced page in length. (True) [100%]

5. iUniverse and Publish America are traditional publishers. (False) [81.81%]

6. An author’s platform consists of (All of the above: A website, writing articles or blogs, teaching a class.) [90.9%]

7. Random House is a vanity/subsidy press. (False) [81.81%]

8. A pseudonym is (a name used by an author other than their real name). [100%]

9. Midnight Express Books is a vanity/subsidy press. (True) [100%]

10. A pen name is the same as a pseudonym. (True) [90.9%]

11. A book proposal is used with (nonfiction). [81.81%]

12. In certain circumstances the author might have to pay back an advance. (False) [90.9%]

13. A synopsis is used with (fiction). [90.9%]

14. A bio is (a description of an author or their history). [100%]

15. Poetry that rhymes is classified as (rhythmic). [90.9%]

16. A byline is the line in an article where the name of the author is located. (True) [100%]

17. A vanity/subsidy press pays an advance. (False) [90.9%]

18. The Bureau of Prisons allows prisoners to publish under a byline. (True) [90.9%]

19. Payment for book reviews is always unethical. (False) [100%] – think Kirkus Clarion Reviews

20. A CV and a resume is the same thing. (True) [100%]

21. A copy editor deals with (grammar, punctuation, and word usage). [100%]

22. LOI stands for (Letter of Introduction). [100%]

23. An acquisitions editor (selects which manuscripts go to the selection committee). [81.81%]

24. A publication that is semi-monthly is published (twice a month). [100%]

25. A copyrighted work is protected for (70 years after the author’s death). [100%]

26. A publication that is semi-weekly comes out (twice a week). [100%]

27. It is professional to copyright your manuscript prior to submitting it to a publisher. (False) [81.81%]

28. A slush pile is where requested manuscripts are placed. (False) [81.81%]

29. Anything on the internet is public domain. (False) [81.81%]

30. Which of the following are considered social media? (All of the above: Twitter, Facebook, Myspace) [100%]

31. You may use characters from other writers as long as your story is original. (False) [90.9%]

32. How long is the average novel? (60,000 words) [90.9%]

33. Facts are copyrightable. (False) [81.81%]

34. The copyright holder of a particular book should be the publisher. (False) [90.9%]

35. Libel is (written). [90.9%]

36. You are allowed to publish books and articles from prison. (True) [90.9%]

37. You have to register a work with the copyright office for it to be protected. (False) [90.9%]

38. You are allowed to act as a reporter from prison. (False) [100%]

39. Plagiarism is the (use of someone else’s words without citing the source). [100%]

40. You are not allowed to earn money from a book while in prison. (False) [81.81%]

41. A novel is (fiction). [100%]

42. What does NDA stand for? (Nondisclosure Agreement) [90.9%]

43. A genre is a classification of writing. (True) [100%]

44. You need an agent to sell either a nonfiction or fiction book. (False) [100%]

45. In terms of libel and slander, how many people do you have to tell for it to be illegal? (1) [100%]

46. A publicist works on commission. (False) [72.72%]

47. A format or layout that someone creates is copyrightable. (True) [100%]

48. A reputable agent charges fees to represent your work. (False) [81.81%] -not fees, a commission

49. Syntax is the study of the structure of sentences. (True) [100%]


50. Genre [90.9%]

51. Personification [100%]

52. Collaboration [100%]

53. Protagonist [90.9%]

54. Setting [100%]

55. Voice [100%]

56. Suspense [81.81%]

57. Allusion [81.81%]

58. Climax [90.9%]

59. Epic [90.9%]

60.Narrator [100%]


61. List up to 10 ways to build your platform. [90.9% listed 10 correct answers, 9.09% listed 5 correct answers]

On the last page of the final examination packet a Post-Examination Survey was enclosed. These are the results of the survey:


18-24 (0%)       [0]

25-34 (27.27%) [3]

35-44 (45.45%) [5]

45-54 (9.09%)   [1]

55-64 (9.09%)   [1]

65+    (9.09%)   [1]


GED                           (18.18%) [2]

High School Diploma   (27.27%) [3]

Career Diploma          (9.09%)   [1]

Associate’s Degree     (9.09%)   [1]

Bachelor’s Degree       (9.09%)   [1]

Master’s Degree         (18.18%) [2]

Doctorate Degree       (9.09%)   [1]


Yes (100%) [11]

No  (0%)     [0]


Yes (100%) [11]

No  (0%)     [0]


Yes (90.9%) [10]

No  (9.09%) [1]


Yes (54.54%) [6]

No  (45.45%) [5]


Yes (9.09%) [1]

No  (90.9%) [10]


Yes (100%) [11]

No  (0%)     [0]


Yes (90.9%) [10]

No  (9.09%) [1]

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).

Leave a Comment