Rachelle Spector and Amy Friedman have something in common. Both women fell in love and married men behind bars convicted of murder. Katie Couric’s interviews with Spector and Friedman aired July 9, 2012.
When Rachelle Short, an aspiring 23-year-old musician met Phil Spector she was immediately smitten with him. When she Googled Spector’s name, she discovered that he was suspected of murdering actress Lana Clarkson. The information did not deter the love-struck woman from continuing a relationship with Spector and marrying him after a brief courtship. Three years after the couple met, Spector was convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to 19 years to life behind bars.
Ten years later, beautiful, youthful looking Mrs. Spector sits in front of Katie Couric and continues to defend her husband’s innocence. Even with Spector’s former girlfriend, singer Debra Harry’s disclosure that Spector allegedly threatened her with a gun, Rachelle still asserts her husband is “a good man.” She views Spector as a brilliant and funny man. Spector has charmed his wife into being content with a marriage that consists of 15-minute face to face visits holding hands. Conjugal encounters are not allowed.
Effectively evaluating inmates who are interested in becoming classroom tutors or instructors is a challenging — but — essential task. This is because the health of your very classroom depends on finding the right fit, an inmate who is experienced enough to teach the subject at hand, motivated enough to continue putting in the time and effort day after day, and passionate enough to be patient with incarcerated students who might not be very accessible, friendly, or open to learning. You’re looking for a needle in a haystack. But with several concepts in mind and a roadmap in hand, this process can turn from a tumultuous experience to one of certainty and clarity.
What follows is that roadmap. These are some of the components you should consider when evaluating applicants for inmate instructor positions.
Prior Experience: In my mind, prior experience is the top selection criteria. Teaching in the prison context is not an easy task, and inmate learners are not always the most willing of students. As such, an experienced hand is usually best. If an inmate has had a positive prior teaching experience in the correctional setting, this person brings those prior skills with them to the table. Likewise, those who have taught outside of prison are a tremendous resource since most people don’t go into the teaching profession for the money. As such, they likely had, and might still possess, a passion for teaching. This can only be a plus for your classroom.
You might never read a more dramatic before and after story than that of Jerry Balone. Aligned on one side are all the usual suspects—neglect, poverty, gangs, indifference, labels, crime, anger, violence, revenge, hatred. The other side has only two members: education and dreams. Are they enough to defeat a lifetime of neglect, violence, anger, and imprisonment?
I loved being a criminal,” says Gerald T. Balone in the same tone someone would state his name. “From the time I was a little kid on, I wanted to be a gangster, a killer, and a thug.”
CZ: Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Janice: For the past 14 years, I’ve been teaching in a state prison in Indiana. I’m the “mama bear” to 50 adult men each day. They range in age from 17-74, with abilities from Kindergarten to 12th grade. The average guy is under 5th grade. We study the five subjects necessary to pass the GED test.
I’m also an author and speaker. I wrote Locked Up With Success: A Prison Teacher’s Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap in Any Classroom. My “mission” when I speak is to spread the word about the value of correctional education. In addition, it seems counterintuitive, but I stress how the answer to public education is right under our noses – in prisons.
As if I’m not busy enough, I’m also beginning an exciting new venture. I am putting my successful system online for anyone who is working on their GED. I have an organized but simplified way to help students pass the test as efficiently and quickly as possible. They’ll have personal access to me when they have questions or concerns. The emphasis will be on math because that is the biggest challenge for most students. The other emphasis will be on how to write an essay.