My Life Journal: Teaching At A Prison

I’ve had a semi-complicated relationship with the concept of employment. While I was in school (including college), my parents basically forbid me from getting a job. This is mostly because of my sister, who got a job in high school and stopped caring about school after that. She dropped out of college and my parents didn’t want me to do that. So, after getting my Bachelor’s and Master’s, the world of employment finally opened up to me. Unfortunately, my first two “jobs” were just unpaid internships that were more busy work than anything else. Put simply, my employers weren’t all that good and didn’t really need me. So, instead, I consider my first official “job” to be the first one that actually payed me. And that job had me working at a prison.

Image result for prison

I’m going to purposefully be vague about my employers and the prison itself. Simply put, I don’t remember signing any kind of “non-disclosure agreement,” but I don’t remember NOT signing something like that either. I’m just trying to legally cover my ass.

So, around October of 2015, I caught wind of a job at a local community college. It was a teaching job, which I was mildly interested in pursuing. So, with some help, I got an interview. To make a long story short, I got the job. However, through a series of rather hard to explain circumstances, instead of teaching at the college itself, the powers that be decided to put me in their program helping prisoners get their GEDs. Thus, my first official job was working for a college at a prison.

The term “prison” is honestly a bit harsh in this case. The facility I was teaching in was considered more like a “re-entry center.” This means that the prisoners, or “residents,” I was teaching were within 3 years of re-entering society. I would consider the whole facility more on the “light security” side. Still, being the child of a police officer, I was really nervous about what I would see as an employee in this prison. Would I see make-shift weapons everywhere? Were all the people I’d see hardened criminals? Would I be afraid for my life every day? Turns out, the answer to all these questions was No.

See, I taught in the GED program for the facility. In order to even be granted permission to get in this program, the residents had to be in their absolute best behavior. This means no contraband violations, no violence, etc. So, for the most part, my students were just regular guys who wanted to further their own education and get their GED. Honestly, I met some nice people in there, including my favorite student who was very philosophical and well read.

That’s not to say their weren’t any incidents in the 5 months I worked at the facility. One of my students came in so high one day that he couldn’t even sit down. (I asked an officer once how they can even get that stuff. All I got in response was “They always find a way.”) There was an incident involving a violent inmate attacking a nurse. Not to mention a big ordeal involving “pornographic contraband” that got one of my coworkers fired. But the incidents were never TOO violent. (The nurse was mostly shocked, if I remember correctly.)

The real trouble came from the people running the place. See, there was an entire bureaucracy to the place that always left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt like teaching with my hands tied behind my back. The students were always asking for supplies that we ran out of quickly. To get new supplies, the facility needed to approve of the supplies, inspect them, submit written approvals, blah blah blah. To give you an example of bureaucracy screwing us over, let me tell you about the computer lab. My main classroom was the computer lab where I would tutor people at different levels of education. The Lab had a total of about 16 computers. At one point, for 6 weeks, we had only 3 computers that actually worked. In order to fix those computers, there had to be an entire process that the facility outright refused to start doing, effectively holding the computers hostage until some contract with the college pulled through or something. To be honest, the whole thing was confusing and it left me pretty angry.

Working at a prison was a challenge, but it was rewarding for me. By working at this prison, I found out I had a knack for teaching. Now I work for the college directly teaching classes in a normal classroom. Would I recommend working for a prison? Well, you definitely get a sense of what the prisoners go through. You get an appreciation for your own life. But still, no, I wouldn’t really recommend it if only because the people in charge can sometimes be very petty.

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