According to the Pew Center on the States, over the last two decades US spending on corrections has increased from $10 billion to $52 billion annually, an increase of over 500% since the mid-1980s. This is due to a number of factors. One overriding factor concerns the issue of recidivism which is fostered through a lack of education and results in a dearth of viable employment opportunities for prisoners in the real world. Simply stated, if ex-prisoners cannot compete in the job market when they get out of prison, they will go back into the underground street economy in order to make a living.
In the tough-on-crime 1990s educational and rehabilitative programs were cut. Prisoners were no longer eligible for Pell Grants. This was put into effect by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1993 and the Higher Education Reauthorization Act of 1994. Without funding prison education programs screeched to a halt. Within three weeks of the passing of this legislation, over 350 in-prison college and vocational programs collapsed, leaving their students with nothing to do but become engulfed in the toxic prison culture.
With the well-known and documented fact that education is the single most cost-effective method of reducing recidivism, Christopher Zoukis enters the picture. Mr. Zoukis, a recipient of two 2011 PEN American Center Writing Awards (drama and fiction), and the author of the definitive reference book on prison education, has harnessed not only the fact that education is the solution to recidivism, but has a very clear view of the reality. This is because Mr. Zoukis is currently a federal prisoner at FCI-Petersburg.
Mr. Zoukis, who is 25 years old, made some bad decisions in his youth. Prison forced him to gaze in the mirror and accept responsibility. Since then, he has also made tremendous strides. Christopher’s evolution is the result of education. Currently he is enrolled in college via correspondence through Ohio University. More than a student, Christopher teaches other inmates in his prison’s Education Department, and writes prolifically.
Mr. Zoukis teaches a class titled “Writing and Publishing“. The class teaches prisoners the techniques of professional writers, along with how to submit their work, thus imparting voice to their literary effort. As a vocational, academic, and practical class, Mr. Zoukis feels that both he and his class are making a difference in the lives of his students and their families. Mr. Zoukis hopes the class will be a catalyst to lower recidivism rates, providing a higher quality of life for all who might participate in the class.
As an outreach, Mr. Zoukis blogs about his class weekly. These blogs contain his preparation for each week’s class, the methodology of the actual teaching, his struggles as both a prisoner and a prison-educator, and the resounding growth and success that the class facilitates. The blog also includes guest blogs by other prison education experts and keeps the reader abreast of other educational endeavors that Mr. Zoukis is participating in. Current endeavors include the preparation and approval process for a monthly “Correspondence Course Seminar” and an educational newsletter titled the Education Behind Bars Newsletter. Mr. Zoukis can also be followed on Twitter @czoukis. It is here that he alerts those interested in prison education to relevant news items.
In addition to his class blog, Mr. Zoukis’ website also includes a number of features attractive to the general public. One of his more popular features is his Book Reviews page where he both entertains his readers and cuts through the usual incoherence associated with many book reviews, as he grapples with voice, style, and the all-important factor of a book’s appeal. Another very popular feature is his Writing Awards page where Mr. Zoukis posts his award winning writings. Currently this page includes award winning writing from the PEN American Center’s Prison Writing Program.
Other significant features include his Poems and Essays. According to Mr. Zoukis, the most painful act is seeing, yet it is in that act of seeing that love is born. It is precisely this view that makes his poetry cry out with feeling and ring with truth. His essays are compositions that emanate a curious field of suppressed energy. They are sagacious and quick to notice a far event, for which he construes eventualities in crystalline language.
Anyone wishing to know more about Christopher Zoukis may consult his About Me page. This page shows a young man’s transition from ethical pragmatism, which is always the doctrine of self-interest, to a spiritual awakening, transformation, and new direction. It tells the story of a troubled young man who found his stride and calling inside a federal prison.
The site also includes practical features such as a Media page for press releases, a Contact Me page so readers may interact with Mr. Zoukis, a Resume page for readers to see what he has been doing the last few years, a Guestbook page for readers to leave their mark, and a Links page.
If it has anything to do with prison education, Christopher Zoukis’ website should be consulted.