When Christopher Zoukis first went to prison over 10 years ago, he was completely unprepared. “I had no idea how the system worked, where I
I spent this morning consulting with a fellow prisoner — a recent GED graduate — at FCI Petersburg, a medium security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia. The consultation concerned the man enrolling in a college correspondence program. The problem was that he had gone to the FCI Petersburg Education Department’s leisure library looking for some type of book or resource guide on college correspondence programs for incarcerated students, but left empty handed. The only relevant text available was the second edition of the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada by Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D., a book published several years ago, which has since been updated and published again by Prison Legal News in 2009.*
Luckily for my prospective student friend, I happen to be the author of the text Education Behind Bars: A Win-Win Strategy for Maximum Security (Sunbury Press, 2012). It’s a prison education reference text that profiles various correspondence programs which inmates can enroll in. The problem is the FCI Petersburg Education Department will not stock a copy of this text. I’ve made a number of inquiries with the current FCI Petersburg Education Department Assistant Supervisor, but I never gain any traction. My Inmate-to-Staff emails are never answered — and have never been since the email system was installed several years ago — and I neither receive any approvals nor denials. Does this mean that higher education is dead at FCI Petersburg?
Since I’m now used to students needing the information contained in my book, information not made available to them by the FCI Petersburg Education Department staff, I always keep an extra copy of my text in my cell. The would-be student and I had a very productive morning. I explained to him about how the application process works, accreditation, the correspondence course modality, and we even settled upon a few schools which he was going to write to for more information (i.e., Upper Iowa University, Adams State College, and Ohio University). We ended our consultation with me writing out a sample letter which he could send to each school. As I walked away, he had pen in hand and was writing copies of the sample letter to send to each school.
Today I thought that I’d share with you some of the books I’ve read recently and some that I’ve purchased, but have not managed to read yet. I was thinking that this could be a fun way to share several good books and to humanize the prisoner educator (prisoner who educates). After all, much of the time, the prisoner is thought of as a liar or a deceiver. While I don’t contest this for the general population, I do contest it for those of us who work hard to educate our fellow prisoners, along with educating ourselves. Hopefully my reading list will open eyes, hearts, and minds to the cause of prisoners who educate prisoners.
Without further ado, here is what’s currently on my bookshelf, and my thoughts on them:
America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s
By Lee Bernstein
I’m in the process of reading this stupendous title. I suppose that the idea of prisoners being able to affect change outside of the prison walls really interests me. While some of it is rather political, it is a superb read from the glory days of prisoners actually doing something to better themselves and the world around them. It is a very inspiring read and has even motivated me to do some research upon American prisons of the past. This book very well might have inspired me to write a book about the history of prison education.