When was the last time you thought about educational programs in American prisons? Have you ever thought about it? Do you know anyone who is/was incarcerated? Do you know someone who got a Bachelor’s degree while they were in prison? Do you think educational programs for prisoners is a great idea? Do you believe it expands access to low income students? Do you think it’s a horrible idea? Do you think it’s taking away opportunities from potential students who are not incarcerated? Do you know anything about educational programming in prisons?
Did any of those questions sound familiar? Or did the thought never cross your mind? From my experience, most people tend to ignore the American prison system unless it impacts them personally.
Why do we, as a society, overlook the people who are behind bars? We’re taught to believe prisons are solely for bad people who do bad things. We’re taught to believe criminalizing people is the most effective way to create a “safe” community. We’re taught that incarcerated people do not deserve the right to vote. We’re taught to view prisoners as less than human.
What ever happened to, “Treat people the way you want to be treated”? We do that, right? We treat everyone with respect, acceptance, kindness, and love because we want to be treated with respect, acceptance, kindness, and love, right?
So, it’s settled – we treat everyone same!
We treat our neighbor who needs help the same way we treat a homeless person who needs help, right?
Oh…no, not typically. Maybe it is because strangers are different from those who we personally know, right? Stranger danger? That’s a thing, isn’t it?
Or that is simply what society teaches us to believe?
In the perfect world, we should not be afraid of others. In the perfect world, we would be able to help anyone and everyone. Unfortunately, that’s not the type of society we live in. Our society teaches us to love thy neighbor, but criminalize wrong-doers with the utmost justice. So, what do we do from here? How do we change the way we are living? How do we change our perspectives? How do we change the way we see one another?
We can start by taking the time to learn from one another – but not just from people we already know. One of the best ways to do this is to listen or read someone’s story, and I want to discuss a specific person’s story in this post. My hope is that this story will inspire you to learn from one new person today.
Christopher Zoukis is an American writer, whose book College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons teaches people about college within prison, which he wrote from behind bars. Currently, Zoukis is incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg in Petersburg, Virginia. According to Zoukis’ website (www.christopherzoukis.com), he is “an impassioned and active prison education advocate, a legal commentator, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and prison articles”. After reading Zoukis’ books (there are 4 of them), I can easily say he is one of the most credible, raw, and intuitive writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons is a necessary read for anyone who wants to learn more about the intersection of education and the prison system. This book discusses the implications of having post-secondary educational programs in prisons, specifically the benefits prisoners receive. Zoukis goes into detail about how education helps improve a prisoner’s self-confidence, quality of life, and mental health. Not only does Zoukis speak from his own experiences, but he also examines studies conducted by researchers in related fields to further his narrative. Along with the benefits for the incarcerated, Zoukis explores the benefits of the greater community. By investing in higher education programs for prisons, taxpayers could save about $80 billion per year and reduce crime within the community.
Intertwined within facts and personal memories, Zoukis makes a call for Americans to change the way they see college in prisons. Zoukis is transparent about his story and growth through post-secondary education, which allows the reader to see the true benefits of educational programming in prisons. College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons is a unique book with an equally unique perspective. Having the opportunity to read Zoukis’ story and research has been an immense privilege for me. While this book has taught me more about the intersection of education and prison, it also allowed me to learn from someone who is different from me – which is the purpose of this post.
As a student of higher education, I find that the classroom tends to focus on the typical areas of higher education: Big 10 Schools, community colleges, private, religious universities, etc.. But, does anyone really think about these non-traditional forms of education, such as post-secondary education programs in prisons? From my experience, no. For me, it is important to acknowledge how higher education impacts society as a whole, which includes these non-traditional forms of higher education. My purpose for writing this post is to get readers thinking about the purpose of higher education and open up the conversation about all forms of higher education. I believe the purpose of higher education is to create opportunities, challenge students, and provide a holistic, inclusive education.
By reading stories by people like Zoukis, learning about different forms of higher education, you can gain a better sense of higher education's purpose and understand the undeniable benefits of educational programming for all people. I want to be a person who treats people, regardless of their background, with respect. While we may think of prisons and prisoners negatively, it is important to acknowledge that all people are not the same. If we truly want to treat all people the same, we need to practice a humanizing love and listen to people's stories. If we close our ears to the stories of others, we cannot learn and grow ourselves. We cannot, and should not, be afraid of learning.
To leave some food for thought, I challenge everyone to read a story about someone who is different from you and consider the following quote:
“We read to know we’re not alone” – William Nicholson