I don’t fear the inmates’ intimidation, and I don’t usually fall for their manipulations. However, once in awhile I have been known to get duped. I remember Mr. North*, who acted really innocent and sensitive. I cringe now when I recall how I tried to help him get medical care. He would cry, and tell me disturbing stories how the nurse would yell at him and not let him see a doctor. I went out on a limb, making phone calls to advocate for him. After three or four times of helping him with various issues, I started to finally catch on to his manipulations.
Boy, did I fall for his garbage!
Soon after his release, I read about him in the national news. He had been incarcerated in another state, subsequently escaping, terrorizing and robbing all over the country. By the time he was apprehended, he was charged with the rapes and murders of two women; he now sits on death row. Mr. North had apparently manipulated at least one other staff member while he was in our prison. That woman became romantically involved with him and actually helped Mr. North obtain weapons. To this day, when I think about Mr. North I wince. He sat in my classroom as a student, then as a tutor for nearly a year. I tried to help him because he had a sincere, pathetic manner. I definitely misjudged Mr. North. He taught me to be alert to manipulation.
*All names have been changed in order to protect the privacy of each individual.
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.