The largest amount of my time, and probably one of the most important things I do, is creating an environment where my students believe they can succeed, and where they want to succeed. I understand those who say no one can be motivated by anyone. I understand their reasoning.  However, I’m talking about setting the stage where students who are afraid to learn, or hate school, or don’t believe in themselves, can feel safe and thrive in an educational setting.  If that can’t be accomplished, very little learning will occur.   

Most of the men come in with very diverse recollections of what school was like. School wasn’t cool, and they still have no use for education.  Probably up to ninety percent of them despised school, and they certainly disliked authority. In my case, some of my students have an issue with a woman in an authoritative position.

Many of the younger students, and even some of the older ones, don’t understand why they need a GED, why they need to learn to read, or why they need to be educated. They believe since they have always had a job or they can get a job, it won’t make a difference in their life whether or not they are educated.

I spend a lot of time selling them on the value of education, what it can mean to them, why they need it, what’s going on in the economy, and what advantages it will give them to go home with an education. From our school, they can also move up to vocational programs and college programs right in the facility. It doesn’t end just with a GED. I am always trying to push lifelong learning.  

Now when I say “sell”, I don’t mean simply telling them.  They have to come to this conclusion on their own.  It has to be sold by slowly showing them the advantages of learning. This is done through discussions, posting articles on the bulletin board, and comparing needed job skills from each of their life experiences.  We refer to a wall chart which illustrates every math concept needed for each of many careers.  There’s always the math lesson which allows the students to compare lifetime income of non graduates, to high school graduates, and to college educated individuals.  I share literature which indicates an education makes the inmates less likely to recidivate, or return to prison.  Some realize they want to help their own children.  And some even find value in making their parents, grandparents, spouse or children proud of them.  Whatever it takes!

Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at

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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