During my time in prison I have come across few staff members willing to go the extra mile. This is an unfortunate statement, but a true one. Too often doors are closed just because of it being a prisoner asking. Too often the prisoner is viewed as a deceiver or someone looking for trouble, trying to take advantage of even the smallest iota of compassion shown. This, in itself, is a very challenging perception and expectation to overcome.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that all prisoners are good people. This is because they aren’t. I know enough people in prison – some who are really bad people – to know that prisons serve a purpose and that I’m glad some of these people are in here. My frustration stems from when those in prison who are trying to do better are grouped with those trying to do less. This manifests itself in very unfortunate ways for those of us on the right side of the issue.
However, this post isn’t about the way prisoners are looked at or the difficulty of being guilty by association. This post is about a staff member here at FCI-Petersburg who has managed to look past my prison uniform – and those of my fellow prisoner educators (prisoners who educate) – and see me as a person, and perhaps even as a professional. As such, much progress has been accomplished.
While I can’t use her name – because of prison regulations – I can identify her as the staff member over the Adult Continuing Education program. During her tenure as the ACE Supervisor – an informal name that I’m utilizing – much progress has ensued. We’ve seen new classes held, a number of new classes on the waiting list to be held, and a number of new potential instructors express an interest in teaching classes. We’ve also seen the completion rates skyrocket, and the prison population experience a renewed interest in the Adult Continuing Education program. With such exciting titles as Pawnshop Ownership, Film Critique, and Post-Conviction Remedies, what prisoner wouldn’t be interested?!
The change in experience – for instructor and student – was prefaced by a newfound attention to detail and compassion instituted by the new ACE Supervisor. To start, instructor meetings were implemented and even a class for potential instructors which taught them how to prepare the required class proposal. In each of these venues, the inmate instructors were encouraged to speak up and contribute their ideas. For once, we weren’t talked to, but talked with…and listened to! I can’t even begin to share with you how profound of a difference all of this made. For once, I felt vital to the program’s continuation and respected by those involved.
Before I close, a final note is needed on a new and exciting program that the ACE Supervisor has implemented: the Self-Paced Adult Continuing Education program. This program – as you know from previous posts – revolves around a pre-test, watching a series of videos, answering questions for each video watched, and a post-test. Yesterday I watched the first two of six 50-minute videos in the American Revolution Self-Paced ACE course. I fully enjoyed the lesson materials – videos from the History Channel – and found that I, someone who really doesn’t have that big of an interest in history, left with a knowledge and understanding much greater than I previously possessed on the subject matter. So far, I would call the Self-Paced ACE program a resounding success!
With all of this being said, I would like to proffer a personal thank you to the FCI-Petersburg ACE Supervisor. While I typically only see her in the instructor meetings or in passing, a public thank you is required for the dedication which she has brought to this program. She has gone above and beyond the work required or expected of her. If only more prison educators could be like her, we would see wonders occurring in prisons across the nation.