Scenarios are an excellent way to help students learn skills and apply them to everyday life. Especially in our vocational program, we use scenarios quite often. Horticulture is learned in a greenhouse environment. Those students also care for the lawn and gardens surrounding the school. Small electronics are learned by working on broken microwave ovens, televisions and radios. The electronics teacher has a collaborative project with Goodwill Industries.  The Goodwill truck delivers broken donations to the prison; the students learn as they repair the toasters, VCR’s, radios and, blenders.  Goodwill then is able to sell the repaired items rather than throw them away. Culinary arts students prepare luncheons.  The automotive students repair and service staff members’ cars.  The students in Construction Trades assist with repairs throughout the institution, build custom furniture, and work on projects for Habitat for Humanity.    

The challenge for most teachers is to create scenarios and maintain high levels of instruction. It takes a lot of energy and time to plan and carry out the activities. Security and time issues make it even more challenging for our prison school.

Science is an excellent example. Animals are not allowed for biology classes. Chemicals are not to be brought in, not to mention any sort of tools.

Tools are allowed for some vocational programs, but lack of time makes scenarios difficult. Even though scenarios are used very often, they must be short and simple. Only certain tools are approved, and much class time is taken signing the tools in and signing them out.

In my classrooms I use a lot of movies and videos. Many teachers I have seen will use a movie as kind of a break, or because it’s easy.  I find it takes much more planning for me when I show a movie, but I see a lot of positive results. The biggest challenge is getting the men to understand it is important to learn things, other than what is in textbooks. The first comment I will hear is, “I just want to get my GED.” It’s hard for them to understand they can enjoy themselves and learn at the same time. I explain to them everything I do has a purpose, and I have been doing this a long time. As their coach, I am saying they need a break from the books, and they will learn a lot by watching the movie or video. I try to show a movie at least once a month. It gives their brains a rest. The non-readers feel more equal, and they can sometimes shine over the readers. 


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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