It is with great pleasure that I share with you — the Prison Education News readers — some recent developments in our prison education advocacy efforts. This news concerns several long-term projects that we have been working on behind the scenes and several new projects that we are preparing to engage in. It has been some time since I have provided such an update, so please allow me to update you sufficiently.
Surprise: “College for Convicts” To Be Published By McFarland!
The big news of the month concerns my College for Convicts manuscript. Several months ago I announced that Middle Street Publishing — the same nonprofit which owns and operates PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com — had acquired the rights to my latest prison education text College for Convicts: The Case for a Safer, More Prosperous Country. Well, it appears as if I spoke too soon. Several weeks ago McFarland and Company — a very large nonfiction publisher located in North Carolina — approached us concerning this very text. After several weeks of discussions and negotiations, we’ve come to an agreement. McFarland and Company will be publishing College for Convicts! We are currently in the process of signing the contracts and making the requested revisions.
We’re thrilled with this news because McFarland and Company has a significantly larger reach than we do, and they will be able to put College for Convicts into the hands of academics, public policy makers, and libraries the world over. Their expert backing will allow the College for Convicts project to reach much greater heights and will ensure enhanced staying power. This is truly a win for the prison education lobby and incarcerated students everywhere.
Today, at 11:00 AM, I approached my unit team area — F-North in FCI Petersburg — seeking to submit a form which authorizes the Federal Bureau of Prisons to send money to a friend of mine from my commissary account (BP-199). Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM is the designated “Open House” time period for my unit team. This is when inmates housed in the F-North housing unit are allowed to make inquiries with our counselor, case manager, and unit manager. Today, like many Tuesdays and Thursdays, my unit team decided that it just wasn’t a good day to have open house, so they simply didn’t bother to have it. Naturally, no advanced notice was made and no rescheduling will occur. Same old, same old.
While disappointed about not being able to submit the money request form, I’m used to such inconsistency at FCI Petersburg (more specifically in the F-North housing unit), so I just brushed it off and decided to carry the form around with me until my counselor decided to make an appearance. My opportunity came at 4:36 p.m., right after my cell door was unlocked following the 4:00 p.m. count. It’s the interaction which subsequently transpired which motivated me to write this personal exposition of my experience.
By Jermaine J. Sims The current economic situation in America has caused budgetary constraints to ensue within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Because of these constraints, inmate tutors are having both their pay and hours cut. As such, it’s not difficult to imagine a Bureau of Prisons where academic and vocational programs are few and…Read More
By Frank Carlile I’m not the smartest person in this prison, but I would like to be. I’ve met some very intelligent people here, and try to learn from each of them. When I first transferred here, I signed up for every class I could. By the time I left the transfer unit, I was…Read More
By Gary Walden
As of this writing, I have 212 days clean and sober. I wake each day and thank my Higher Power for another chance to help a fellow inmate who may be struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. This may not sound like a lot of ‘clean time’ to some who may be reading this, but to me each day is a new journey into uncharted territory.
Someone once observed that to gauge how well you are doing in controlling your own life, pay attention to how many ‘managers’ you have: Wardens or lawyers, probation officers and police, health professionals and counselors. If you have an abundance of unsolicited ‘managers’ in your life, perhaps it’s time to do some critical analysis of where your life is heading.
I recently performed a ‘searching and fearless’ inventory and realized what the last three years of drug and alcohol abuse cost me financially, personally, and spiritually.
Included in this inventory were my dream house, 401k and pension funds, a professional engineering position, a thirty-three year marriage, a twenty plus year career in the Air Force, and being invited to not come back to my church of twenty-eight years.
Along with those expenses, I made sure to personally purchase a lot of expensive ‘bling’ for the local crack dealer, and made sure several liquor stores ended up making a profit. This certainly was not a fair trade.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word education as: “The action or process of educating or being educated, a field of study dealing with methods of teaching and learning.” My lack of education has lead me to this 8′ X 9′ cell that I am now forced to call home.
Scholastics were not embraced by me in my youth. The school of hard knocks was my institution for teaching and learning. Pupils in attendance gained the knowledge of every phase of robbery, drug distribution, and every other crime imaginable.
As I sit in my prison cell, I sometimes flash back to my earlier years and wonder what went wrong. My mother was a caring and willing woman who fed and clothed me to the best of her ability. She was a black single parent who could not read. However, she pushed and encouraged me to be a good student.
I remember having to read the newspaper and other documents to my mother. I was just eight years old and was already writing checks for the household bills, due to her illiteracy. This continued up until I was sixteen. That’s when she kicked me out of her house for dropping out of school and doing other things she didn’t agree with or even understand.
My mother was a Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States in 1982. She worked three jobs and saved for years to bring me to this country. I came to America at the age of six. I find it to be somewhat ironic that I was issued a scholastic visa to enter this country as a student.
By Christopher Zoukis
Sitting in the old wooden chair, I felt cold. I had been in this small, stark room inside the McDowell County Jail for twenty minutes, waiting for my attorney. To many the room wouldn’t be cold, but to someone wearing only a pair of orange scrubs it was. Today would include yet another visit with my attorney, a routine repeated so many times it was . . . well . . . routine. So when he entered I was unimpressed.
He extended his hand and I clasped it. Staring into his eyes I knew this was a formality not extended to all of his clients. I knew this because I knew some of his clients were neither pleasant nor hygienic. After sitting down, he divulged the reason for his visit. I was to sign the plea bargain that had been offered by the U.S. Attorney. A vice squeezed my chest. I couldn’t breathe. My left eyelid twitched wildly as my attorney looked at me with a tender, knowing gaze. A 22-year-old kid who was in way over his head.
He laid out the deal starting with the good news. The U.S. Attorney had agreed to drop a charge. This charge was a bogus one they knew they couldn’t prove. So far, they were only retracting a lie that couldn’t add any time to my sentence. I was less than thrilled but still hopeful.
As I write this, it is nearing midnight and most of the other cell lights are off. People are in bed, which is where I am, too. But I’m sitting up, book light clipped to my Ohio University English textbook, and a pad of paper to write upon on top of the textbook. I find that at night I get my best work done. This is for a number of reasons. The primary reason is the reduction in noise. By 11:30 p.m. the din of noise has reduced to the occasional scream or banging against one’s door.
As part of the blog’s format change, I’ve decided to experiment as to what I write. I suppose that tonight’s blog, being a “Personal Update,” is born out of a desire to create and unwind. After all, just because one is in prison doesn’t mean that they don’t have any stress. In fact, one is presented with stressors of unimaginable proportions. A prime example is the hatred directed at me for being productive.
The productive aspect is one of jealousy. To anyone wasting their life away in prison, the prisoner-student writing a college essay or taking an ACE (Adult Continuing Education) class is a threat. They feel reduced and somehow threatened because of this productivity, because of being left behind. Naturally, this isn’t my perspective. I do what I do not to belittle others. My writing and studying activities bring meaning to my life. I try to empathize with ‘them.’ Yet my empathy does not thwart their animosity.
I’m sad to say that I have intimate experience with discrimination. Because I am a prison educator I am shunned…by some. Just a few weeks ago I had an argument with a man in his late 30s or early 40s. He was upset with me for teaching my class. He felt that I was helping the prison’s administration earn money by teaching my class. Somewhere in his warped mind he felt that all prisoners should refuse to take any courses because the prison made money when prisoners attended classes.