This is the seventh blog post in the ‘Obvious Truths We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring Series.’ This series is based upon eight ‘Obvious Truths’ presented by Alfie Kohn in his “Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring” published in the September 2011 issue of The Education Digest.

“We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically.”

While we certainly aren’t dealing with children when educating prisoners, we are dealing with many of the same issues. In Kohn’s piece, he notes that education is not solely about the child’s academic development, but much more.

Kohn speaks about educating the “whole child” as in “…physical, emotional, social, moral, and artistic growth as well as their intellectual growth.” He states that “…schools should play a key role in promoting many different forms of development.” How revolutionary – yet true – these statements are! If only the American people would see the same is true with prison education and the incarcerated.

While correctional education is seen as something of a drain on taxpayer’s dollars or a reward for bad behavior, it is rarely seen as what it truly is: a tool for social change which benefits all Americans.

It should be noted that this is the secret of prison education. Although the offender receives an education, the prison administration and American people benefit much more. And yes, this is something that the average prisoner would take offense with. But, I’m not the average prisoner. As a matter of fact, through my own education – an education obtained behind bars – I have come to view myself in the role of college student, educator, and author. I wonder what this says about my own socialization through correctional education.

What I have come to understand is that those who come to prison are deficient in some manner. The deficiency could be a social skills issue, mental development issue, a socialization issue, or even a substance abuse issue. Regardless of the reason, something was amiss which prompted the individual to violate social mores and be sanctioned with incarceration.

By placing the offender in prison, society is protected – for a time – but the offender does not automatically become rehabilitated through time behind bars. This is because reflection is not an adequate modality of treatment. Something more is needed. That something more is education.

At the very basic level the inmate must learn how to read and write. This is necessary for a proper life in this day-and-age. This is facilitated through courses leading to the earning of a GED. No human being – regardless of past conduct – should ever be deprived of the inalienable right of being literate and able to communicate.

As previously mentioned, the pursuit of an education is more than an academic credential. Because the incarcerated student pushes forward, working hard, and progressing in their studies, growth under the surface is taking place. This is re-socialization/anticipatory socialization in action. With each course completed the incarcerated student’s moral, ethical, and practical equilibrium becomes more balanced. Their internal compass and ideas begin to shift from that of a criminal to that of a normal mental status.

As the student undertakes higher and higher levels of education (e.g. career/vocational studies, undergraduate studies, graduate studies), the socialization factor of education becomes that much more profound. My personal experience has shown me that once the incarcerated student reaches the college-level of studies, they – as I did – begin to align their own values with those values upheld by the general American public. Hence, they play nice and abide by established social norms.

It should be noted that my personal experience could not be considered a representative sample, but it is my belief that my experience is typical of someone in my position. This belief is substantiated somewhat by studies on recidivism which show that the higher the level of education obtained, the lower the recidivism rate of ex-offenders. I wholeheartedly believe that after a number of years in the pursuit of a higher education, something clicks. The offender no longer desires the follies of their past, but the successes of their law abiding future.

The long and short of it is that an education – to a child or convict – is not only an education, but an experience. With the right tools, many more prisoners can receive this experience and many of those can find what I’ve found. They can understand life from a new, more productive perspective and look forward to a life outside of prison, a life perhaps not all that different from your own.

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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