Got Any Pencils?

Got Any Pencils?

Our supplies, our technical equipment and our materials are quite scarce. For example, there have been times when we only received 20 pencils a month, and these were shared among 40 to 60 students each day. Someone in the bean counter’s office determined that one pencil should last for 129 pages. I used to get angry, now I just chuckle and make do the best I can.

My overhead projector was last repaired in 1988, according to the ticket on it. I recently obtained a TV, VCR and DVD player. A couple months ago a whiteboard was delivered, which I have been waiting for since I started teaching at the prison.

“New” computers for us are usually several years old when we receive them. And, for security purposes, Internet access is out of the question. Basically, I have several choices of textbooks, an overhead projector, a TV monitor, a DVD/VCR player, and a few computers that are literally years old.

Another issue most teachers don’t deal with “on the streets” is that I am limited in what I can bring into or out of the institution. We are shaken down at the front gate every morning; we take off our shoes, coats, and jackets.  We remove everything from our pockets.  Our bags and lunches are searched for contraband. We are not allowed to bring in what many people would consider basic supplemental educational materials. We can’t just walk in with a book, a DVD, a magazine, extra pencils, or even a newspaper without first getting permission.

As they say, “It is what it is,” and this is not to be critical. I simply want to illustrate that success can be attained, even with a lack of supplies.

Another recent change that affects our school is increased stress, because the Department of Corrections wants us to speed up our promotion and graduation rates. I know this is also the case in other schools. They want more for less: more production, better results, less money and less staff.  It’s more accountability, accountability, accountability.

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

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