The Education of My Mother and Myself

By Wensley Roberts

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word education as: “The action or process of educating or being educated, a field of study dealing with methods of teaching and learning.” My lack of education has lead me to this 8′ X 9′ cell that I am now forced to call home.

Scholastics were not embraced by me in my youth. The school of hard knocks was my institution for teaching and learning. Pupils in attendance gained the knowledge of every phase of robbery, drug distribution, and every other crime imaginable. 

As I sit in my prison cell, I sPhoto courtesy thebrightlines.wordpress.comometimes flash back to my earlier years and wonder what went wrong. My mother was a caring and willing woman who fed and clothed me to the best of her ability. She was a black single parent who could not read. However, she pushed and encouraged me to be a good student.

I remember having to read the newspaper and other documents to my mother. I was just eight years old and was already writing checks for the household bills, due to her illiteracy. This continued up until I was sixteen. That’s when she kicked me out of her house for dropping out of school and doing other things she didn’t agree with or even understand.

My mother was a Jamaican immigrant who came to the United States in 1982. She worked three jobs and saved for years to bring me to this country. I came to America at the age of six. I find it to be somewhat ironic that I was issued a scholastic visa to enter this country as a student.

Read More »

Speaker Gives Hope To Oregon Inmates

By Cara Pallone
Mitchell S. Jackson / KOBBI R. BLAIR / Statesman JournalMitchell S. Jackson has crossed the yard at Santiam Correctional Institution many times, but never as a free man until Friday.

When he did so last week, the 37-year-old was nervous and excited. Just the day before, his mother had texted him this message: “Every decision you’ve made has brought you to this moment.”

Jackson has not been proud of some of those decisions.

But when he walked into the recreation room at the minimum-security prison in Salem and saw that every seat in the house was occupied by a body in a blue “Oregon Department of Corrections INMATE” shirt, he swelled with pride.

The prisoners in the room did not have to be there to listen to him speak. Jackson knew that from experience.

“It’s hard to describe a moment like this,” he said to his audience, “but it has to be one of the most proud moments of my life.”

Read More »

Janie Porter-Barrett

By Christopher Zoukis

Her name was Janie Porter.  She was born just as the American Civil War came to a close.  Growing up in Macon, Georgia, Janie was an exemplary student, eventually graduating with honors from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.  Janie took her teaching degree seriously, accepting a position in rural Georgia.  Five years later, she met and married Harris Barnett, a Virginia businessman. 

Disturbed by the plight of African American children, who grew up in squalid conditions, often ending up in jail at the age of 7 or 8, Janie determined to do something about the problem, which she viewed as a moral crisis.  She began a fund-raising campaign throughout the state of Virginia.  The money was used to build what was then called “a home for wayward girls” – the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls.  In today’s world, it would be referred to as a juvenile detention facility.

Read More »

In Search of Post-Secondary Prison Programs — Ray Brook

By George Hook

I did not want to blow the whistle.  I just wanted to search for available post-secondary prison programs.  I thought the best place to start was with any statement in that regard made by the Bureau of Prisons’ overseer, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  What I found was this statement from Bridges to Opportunity–Federal Adult Education Programs For the 21st Century Report to the President on Executive Order 13445, U.S. Department of Education Office of Vocational and Adult Education, dated July 2008 at p.18:

“Federal Prison Inmate Scholarship U.S. Department of Justice, Inmate Paid Postsecondary U.S. Department of Justice Education ProgramRay Brook, N.Y. The purpose of the Inmate Paid Postsecondary Education Program is to provide inmates incarcerated at the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution opportunities to enroll in postsecondary education programs and receive college credits from the North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, N.Y [3 miles away]. The program serves approximately, 50–60 federal inmates housed at the federal correctional institution. Federal inmates are not eligible to receive Pell Grants to fund postsecondary studies. The Education Department at the Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution has established a partnership with the local community college to offer an on-site college program. Professors provide instruction to the inmate in the prison setting. Inmate students receive community college credits that are transferable to the State University of New York. Inmates pay for the costs of tuition and books from personal funds. The program enhances educational program options for inmates, allowing them to pursue a college degree without using federally appropriated funds.”

Read More »

Evaluating Applicants for Inmate Instructor Positions

By Christopher Zoukis

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.

Read More »

Obvious Truths We Shouldn’t Be Ingnoring Series (Part 2)

By Christopher Zoukis

This is the second blog post in the ‘Obvious Truths We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring Series.’ This series is based upon eight “Obvious Truths” presented by Alfie Kohn in his “Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn’t Be Ignoring,” published in the September 2011 issue of The Education Digest.

“Just knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean you’re smart.”

As with the first post in this series, the fact that useless memorization is ineffective means that we – as educators – need to focus upon our students’ overall understanding, not specific memorized facts. This is because a student can be filled with facts, yet be lost when it comes to connecting the facts and finding “inventive and persuasive ways” of solving problems.

Read More »