Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

GED DiplomaA few days ago I got a interesting comment to a blog that I had posted. One of the comments that was mentioned was that I was not teaching the guys that I teach the right information. It was also stated that I some how was not effective in what I was doing because the guys that are here don’t take their education seriously.

Ironically the day after I got this comment, along with some other vile remarks, one of my students passed the GED test.  After he passed the test we had a talk about what his future goals were.  He laid out to me his goals and what he wanted to do with his GED.  What was so interesting is that this was one of my Hispanic students that doesn’t speak any English. I say this, to those who genuinely desire to help others, that no matter what others say, or if they try to discourage you, there is at least one person that is counting on you!

I am getting close to coming home now and my students are concerned about getting another tutor that is interested in helping them and taking interest in their education, wanting nothing in return.  The teacher that I work for is concerned about the same thing as well. Why is this so important to them?  These are guys that are to be deported back to places such as Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, and the only thing that they have to show that they were here in this country is the GED that they got in prison.  It is a sad reality that these are men who either sacrificed to come here or another relative scarified for them to come here to get what they had to get in prison, and that is an education.  Look at the irony in that.

The one thing that most of us that are born here in the U.S. take for granted is the one thing that liberates another, a piece of paper that says that I have an American education.  One thing that I have learned in all these years of incarceration is that if there is nothing else that can be expected, having some sort of education will cause others to respect you.  This is something that is recognized no matter where you are from.

One of the most rewarding feelings is to pass this Puerto Rican kid throughout the prison and he just lights up and smiles. It is as if he cannot believe it.  This was a guy who struggled and had many days where he just wanted to quit.  It would be those days where I would tell him, “Oye manito! Que estas pasando? Yo creo en ti.  Tenga confianza y fe.  Haga lo mejor que puedes.  Todo va a salir bien” (What is going on with you?  I believe in you take trust in yourself and faith.  Do the best that you can.  Everything is going to come out well). It was these words of encouragement that helped him overcome the self doubt.  Now that he has gotten his GED it is as if the world has opened up to him and he is able to see the possibilities that exist.  That experience is enough to keep me involved no matter what anyone else may say, do, or think.


This post was written in response to a comment left under the post Journey Through Bondage.  We encourage and invite dialogue and discussion on the various topics posted on this site.  We do ask, however, that dialogue is maintained respectfully and on topic.  Personal attacks do not benefit anyone and limit our ability to discuss things wisely.

Alicia says:

This review really made no sense to me. None. You criticize the book for encouraging brothas to read in jail, but then later say you agree with the author that someone in prison who is uneducated “has to find a way to become educated”; what better way to start than by reading as a habit??? Isn’t that why our enslaved ancestors were denied the right to read; to keep them IGNORANT???? Man, there are so many ridiculous things about this review that I could point out, but I will not even waste my time. Half baked review that’s really ridiculous.

  • Yes, you are right in your assessment of the right to read and being denied the right. If you read the book Getting Out and Staying Out and have any experience with incarcerated people you will see that there are many flaws in the concepts that he presents as the methods that one should use to change his/her life for the better, that was his idea for writing the book. He wrote this book to be a guideline for men who are incarcerated to use as a stepping stone to get to where he is at today.

    Unfortunately, although that is part of the solution, at some point, that is not the starting point for many of the men that I know that are incarcerated. See it is easy to make the assumptions you make if you are not involved or have never experienced what is inside these prison walls. So let me give you a up-close view of what it is so that you will have a better understanding of what you may think that you know.

    Even though I am incarcerated I teach quite a few classes here. One class that I tutor is GED. I teach the GED in Spanish and tutor the GED in English. In a classroom of 20 men after the role is called that number dwindles down to 8 everyday. This is not something made up. There are some guys that bring walkmans and magazines to read and there are others that go to sleep. So if simply reading a book is going to change a mans life for the best, an incarcerated person, you tell my why do most of the men in the class not only abandon books but leave off something as important as a GED. It has been proven that a person’s chances of coming back to prison reduces with education. If that was enough to keep people out of prison I am sure that everyone here would take full advantage of the educational opportunities that are offered in every prison that has an educational dept. The difference here is that our enslaved ancestors wanted that freedom that many take for granted today, education being one of them. That is the mere fact that I comment on.

    With the exception of the times that the men here are required to be in school, the library is the quietest and most vacant place in the prison. When the numbers increase it is due to in climate weather. When it is sunny and nice outside, the library is empty. There are plenty books here to read, everything from fact, fiction, world history, African history, American history, and so on. Let me tell you that out of all the books that are read, African American books are the least read!! So with that being said you tell me if this is the starting point for change in the lives of men who have been conditioned to not care about anyone nor anything.

    Last week in another class, Victim Impact to be exact, the question was asked how many guys in the room dropped out of high school prior to coming to prison and the vast majority of the men raised their hands, shamelessly! Let me tell you about the book that Mr. Booth wrote. This book was written during a second trip to prison. So guess what. I am sure that the first time he could have gotten it right, but why didn’t he? Was it that simple? Or were there other issues in his life that he had to confront before coming to terms that maybe there is power in education. See he observed all of this stuff while in prison and wrote from a perspective that was complimented by his point of view, what worked and works for him. But oddly that came after more than one trip to prison.

    If you have any experience with the penal system tell me if what I am about to mention to you from his book which oddly enough is titled “Getting out and Staying out,” with regards to the rules of the halfway house makes sense. The halfway house is where inmates are sent for a duration of 6 months or less as a means to gradually reintegrate them back into society. There are rules and regulations that have to be maintained or else one is in violation and sent back to prison. Mr. Booth gives accounts of how he opened his own business while in the halfway house and emphatically says that he knows that he was not supposed to do it and that if one wanted to do it he has to do it on the sly. So take one of your male loved ones who has spent the last 5 years in prison and is in the halfway house. Is this the advice that you want to be given to that person? To take the chance and circumvent the rules, something that he may have been doing most of his life which is why he might have been sent to prison to begin with, and take the chance of going back to prison. To just be crafty and do it your way! Is this the advice that you want to be given to your “brothas” that are incarcerated? See I know and understand the dangers and the end result of this advice. It is called another trip back to the pen. You can not even have a cell phone in the halfway house let alone your own business.

    If you have read the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” you will have read where she speaks about the stigma of being an ex felon. She says, “For those released on probation or parole, the risks are especially high…Probationers and parolees are at increased risk of arrest because their lives are governed by additional rules that do not apply to everyone else.” You can find the whole quote on page 93. What is the point in mentioning this? That this book that you say that I criticized is filled with misguided and misrepresented information that can do more harm and damage to these communities and homes of these men, that is remove them from the family structure that is needed to break the chains of ignorance and change the cycle of what is happening in these communities. Now these are the issues that I have with the book.

    Furthermore what I wrote was not meant to be a book review of the book “Getting Out and Staying Out,” rather it was a college paper that I had to write concerning this issue. It was a required reading for a Criminal Justice course through the University of Pittsburgh called the “Offender and Reentry.”

    I don’t criticized the book for encouraging men to read I comment on the lack of attention given to the other aspects that are not mentioned. I meet with a guy that is 38 years old once a week that cannot read. I tutor guys and teach in classes every day full of men that cannot read and refuse to learn how. What I comment on is the sad reality of the state of our “brothas” behind bars. I appreciate and respect your views on what I wrote but I ask you to think of the realities of what I see everyday and to consider that as you think of the issue that is being discussed here. Thank you for your comment and if there is anything else that you disagree with let me know. Maybe I am missing something here.

One of the biggest challenges that we face on the inside is establishing a relationship between us and the powers that be. I think that there is a lot of reluctance when it comes to that. I have seen a shift in the prison system in the last 20 years. I have seen it shift from being more rehabilitative to punitive to now back to rehabilitative, and that is only because of financial strains. What I find to be the most effective is when there is a collaboration of outside supporters and the prisoners. It creates a sense of value and worth amongst the men. I will relate to you my inside-out experience so that you will have a better idea as to what i mean by that.
As a participant of a program called Inside-Out, where 15 inmates spent a semester together and discussed the Criminal Justice System, I can say that lives where transformed.  What was ironic and hard to believe was that the 15 men that were involved came from all types of backgrounds, as well as the students. This place is located in rural northeast PA. and many of these students had never had any direct interaction with African Americans and Hispanics and they couldn’t really relate to the White guys in the class because of class differences. So it was a unique bunch. No one had faith that the inmates would really excel and as a result they set the bar low for us. Well I can say that not only did the inmates exceed those expectation they created a culture that opened the door for other programs to develop. This was the first time ever that this program was done in a Federal Institution so it was a trial run.
The way that the classes were set up it allowed other staff members and guards to see the guys in a different light, as intelligent and enlightened human beings. We shattered many myths that are associated with being an inmate. Everyone of us, with the exception of 2 guys, finished ahead of the outside students and that was not what was expected.
We, the inmates, gathered twice a week and discussed issues such as race, religion and politics and were able to come up with rational ideas and solutions to some of the problems that surround these issues. Now this may seem like something that students do on a normal basis. This is not something that you find in prison. This was a very diverse group of inmates. There were Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Atheists, and even guys that have some very strong racial views. Yet education was able to bring them together. Now this is the tripped out part. We used the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” as the course book.
It was interesting to see that all the guys were more concerned about education and trying to really take all that they could from that experience. In that class there were guys that had sentences that ranged from natural life to a year, one guy has 213 years. It was the idea of being educated that allowed them/us to escape the reality of being incarcerated, it allowed us to actually feel that we were part of the greater society. I believe that education is the equalizer and that if many of the guys, with that knowledge and understanding, could do it over again that is the area that they would focus more on.
As we discuss ways to fill in the gaps to see this goal and vision through, I would say that there has to be a way to make the outcome which we desire visible to others.  Incarceration is one of those ” I believe it when I see it” deals.  Because the society has been made to feel threatened and afraid of those that have fallen to the penal system, the only way to combat that is to change that view. One of the hardest things to do, as most think, is complete a college education. This is something that most people are intimated by, yet something that most inmates want. I hate to use these terms but you have to involve those that have been here and have made it so that they can become more involved and active in addressing these needs.
In regards to networking and infrastructure i suggest that something is established that will allow inmates to obtain a higher education upon release if they are committed to change and advocating the need for better communications and resources. This is one way that outside organizations, philanthropist, and policy makers can get involved. Sure there are going to be risks, which is why this would have to be a well thought out process and something would have to be in place to accept these participants. I am sure that there are a number of methods that can be used to determine who fits the criteria.
One of the sad things about this idea is that some universities don’t allow ex felons to attend their schools.  So this can be a thing that dampers and hinders ex felons from furthering their education and actually feeling as if they are part of “the system.” If I have been made to feel as an outcast for the most of my life and come to a point where I want an education but I am told no because I am an ex felon what do you think will happen to this person’s self esteem?  They no longer will feel as if they are part of “the system” and society aside from a penal number.
These are some of the challenges that one face from this side, myself included. This is a big concern of mine. How am I going to be able to get a college education so that I can further my career and life without the stuff that comes with being an ex felon as I do so.  How can this be addressed?  So there has to be something in place that will allow for those who have proven themselves dedicated to the cause, for a lack of better words.
I think that a discussion on this topic is a good and a big step in the right direction.   The discussion must involve people (felons, and I hate that word, so I will say incarcerated people) who can articulate and share the vision  as it concerns them and the greater society.
This is something that I have dedicated and committed myself to and I want to be the best example possible to show that with a little faith and trust the very things that you envision can come to pass.

Two ex-inmates are trying to bring higher education to the incarcerated, one maximum security facility at a time


This article originally appeared on The Crime Report, the nation’s largest criminal justice news source.

At the height of the tough-on-crime era in the mid-1990s, prisoners in New York State seeking access to college-level courses were dealt a one-two punch that seemed to deliver a crushing blow to inmate higher education.

When then-President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, he revoked inmate access to federal Pell grants. In 1995, New York Governor George Pataki followed suit, eliminating Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding for prisoners in the state.

For Kathy Boudin, at the time an inmate of the maximum security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, it seemed like college programs “disappeared overnight.”

“When college was removed, instead of having a line of people walking to school, we had people sitting up in the day rooms playing cards, playing dominoes, getting in fights,” said Boudin, now the director of the Columbia University School of Social Work’s Criminal Justice Initiative.

Boudin — a former member of the counterrevolutionary group Weather Underground who served 22 years for her role in an armored truck heist that left three dead — and other inmates were determined to complement the prison’s GED program with a college education.

After the program’s launch in 1997, similar initiatives were started by New York’s Sing Sing prison and Bard College. Their successful struggle ultimately brought college back to a dozen prisons throughout New York, and helped form the backbone of a decade’s worth of inmate education advocacy. Today, there are programs that bring college to prison in half a dozen states.

Boudin and Cheryl Wilkins, also a former inmate at Bedford Hills and the Criminal Justice Initiative’s Associate Director, spoke to a group of graduate students and faculty at New York University on Wednesday night about their experiences creating an inmate college program after the Pell and TAP grants were revoked.

From the start, it was apparent that their movement would have its detractors.

Read full article here

it was once said that education was the true liberator. when i use to hear this as a youngster i use to blow this statement off. growing up was hard in the sense that for some reason it was preached and shown that the more ignorant you are the cooler you were. we have essentially made ignorance a part of our culture. look at the shows that are portrayed on tv, via real tv. if this is a reflection of our society and a representation of what it means to be a successful american than we are way off the mark. even right here guys get caught up in these shows and have all of these dreams and ideas that life is going to be that way for them upon release. it is as if you can not get a slot on tv if you don’t act like a fool or immoral. not one to pass judgment, that is not my thing trust me, but i must say that there has to be a concern as to what it is that is we are teaching each other, this is not a younger generation problem but one that transcends all cultures, races and age groups, ignorance.

people ask me all the time how did i do so much time. and at what point did i have a paradigm shift in the way that i thought and acted. there were many factors that took place but the most liberating thing that happened to me was that i became educated. see that doesn’t mean knowing everything or having a degree etc. what that means is that you decide to become educated in the role that you have to play in life. this role is different with every individual.

incarceration can come in various forms and the worse form is to be incarcerated mentally. which is to imprison yourself. see i am here in prison physically and have been for 20 years but i have been all across the world and back many times. to liberate your mind from bondage is the most liberating thing that one can do for him/ herself. and that is achieved by way of education.

how and when did it happen for me? i recall the time and the moment clearly. i was in a supermax prison where we were locked down 23 hours a day and 1 out the cells to bathe and use the phone. i stay here for over a year. the first week i slept as i didn’t know how long i was going to be there. during this time i began to really ask myself what did i want out of life and what was i going to do with my life if i ever got out of prison. after a while i could not sleep any more. i was tired of sleeping. if i wasn’t sleeping i was working out, fueling the anger that i had built up in me. i was up to about 2500 push ups and sit ups. i would do sets of 100 until i was exhausted. i got tired of doing that. i got word that my stay was going to be extended and indefinite. what a blow!! it was at this time that i asked myself what the hell does it mean to be free. and how in the hell can i be in prison and further in prison, the hole!! i knew that there was one thing left and that was to become liberated by way of education. i had get something that they could not take from me. and that was whatever i stored in my brain and heart!! so i started to read! i read one book after another! not only did i read but i analyzed the stuff that i read. i started to learn arabic and eventually became fluent. but the thirst to be liberated was not quenched and i had to give in to that urge to learn so i learned spanish, which i am fluent in that as well. so that is another half of the world that i have been exposed to! this has changed my world view a great deal, speaking foreign languages.

so what is the point in all of this. as we talk about change and what can be done to facilitate it. EDUCATION!! this is where it starts and it is a LIBERATOR!!

yes i truly believe that one has to be educated to be liberated. see yes i have been physically in bondage for many years now but it is nothing compared to those who are trapped within other types of bondages. those that may have mental health issues, addiction issues, ecomincal issues etc. there are others that i consider to be far worse than i am. yet the one thing that can free a person is education about the issues that are holding them back from not enjoying life, or is contributing to a poor quality of life.

one of the jobs that i have here is i am spanish G.E.D tutor and i see the regret on many guys faces as they struggle to read basic sentences or do basic math. the a big regret that they have is that they didn’t learn how to do this when they were younger. but that is not the biggest. the biggest regret is the reality that there are not that many options for those how can not read and write out there in the world and that at minimum a G.E.D is needed to gain meaningful employeement. and as that sink in the reality is that the only option that they have leads them back to the seat that they occupy now. crime and that life, to those who have no education, seems to be the only option that they have and accept.

so it is safe to say that without education the road is going to be harder than what one may think right now. if there was one thing that i could tell anyone today, old/young, black/white, male /female,rich or poor, would be to never underestimate to power of what it is and means to be educated! everything that exist around you from the computers that you use to the cars that you drive to the prison cell that i occupy for now was designed by way of someone who was educated in that field of study. for the good or the bad education is the key. to be able to fly from the east coast to the west coast is a luxuary that many enjoy. can you imagine life without airplanes and the other modes of transportation that we enjoy. a friend of mine was telling me about a train that runs from upstate ny to nyc in little to no time. we are talking hours from nyc. i couldn’t imagine that because when i left that didn’t exist, but someone had the insight to do that and i sure that someone profited along the way.

so my point is i would tell everyone to not underestimate the power of education and to seek all ways to become better educated, in all areas of ones life. this will increase one quality of life and make life more enjoyable and easier. to the youth i would say that the are building prison at a rapid pace and what you may not know, because of lack of education, is that they get the estimate numbers to build prisons based on the number of kids drop out of school. so for every kid that drop out of school they build a cell for him/her. it seems to be the common thought that if you can not think for yourself we will put you were somewhere else will think for you and tell you what to do. NOW HOW IS THAT FOR EDUCATION!!