By Tom Wright

Learning is a function of hunger. What? That’s right, the hungrier a student is for the mind food you are offering them, the better the learner they are. And they will also digest what you have to offer more readily as well. Regardless of how “smart” you think they are, or what their I. Q. is. Digestion equals the ability and a willingness to apply what has been learned. This is because the easier it is to access skills, information, and tools, the more likely a human being will use them. This rule is immutable. This observation applies to most of the human race, bar none. Other than those who have physical characteristics that prevent them from learning, this rule always applies. And those with physical limitations are a very, very, small portion of the entire populace.

I have taught both English and transformational seminars in prisons for years. If you talk to the outside populace about the prison population, the politically correct verbiage is “recidivism” while simultaneously if you ask them, they would not want an ex-con living in their neighborhood. Therefore, their belief in recidivism is either nil, or no. That would mean that most people do not believe that inmates can either be persuaded to live different lives other than crime or they believe that inmates cannot be re-educated with the skills necessary to do so. It is this belief that has to be overcome in society, in order for people to see that anti-recidivism training works, and in turn, to have faith in its outcome. As long as the majority of citizens do not believe in these truths, that people’s lives can be changed for the better, even when you do valuable work to that effect with inmates, they will be at a disadvantage. This disadvantage manifests as blocked opportunities, and unwillingness by those in power to provide a realistic offering of programs that would actually support an inmate in getting a job, a place to stay, and to live a life within an environment that supports the changes that have happened.

In reference to the above point, I have seen inmates released from prison with little money and a very tenuous support system, at least, not one that would allow them to actually survive on the outside. Under those circumstances, would you be able to get a job, stay somewhere, feed yourself, and feel good enough about your life so that the temptations that led you to get into trouble in the first place weren’t simply repeated? I don’t know if / could to it, even with all of my training] I have talked to enough inmates while training them, to have heard the familiar story told of how they got back into trouble simply because they didn’t know what else to do. And, that the community within the prison system of friends and food was enough of a draw to convince them that being on the outside was not their best option for survival. And that’s the point. Just like learning, when the tools you have are easily accessible, there is more likelihood that you will use them. Including the tools of being able to feed yourself, and stay in a supportive environment, one that will encourage you to use all the other tools you have learned, included those transformational tools learned in prison. I can’t do my work with inmates in a vacuum, and neither can they live within one eithe.r To think that released inmates will thrive that way is entirely unrealistic.

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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