Observations of a former prison teacher.

What most people fail to realize is that many convicted felons are sitting right where you or I could be, had our lives taken a slight change in events: an extra drink at a holiday party, getting hooked on pain medication, or having daily stress boil out of control. (I think we all have experienced road-rage while commuting to-and-from work). These things, and not having the socioeconomic status and wherewithal (aka. money) to pay for good lawyers to mitigate the circumstances could have sent you to prison where you might have been my student. Are black and Latino citizens more prone to breaking the law? That is a subject that would need a fair statistical study, but it can be said without doing much research that the majority of the aforementioned groups are in a lower socioeconomic class, and may not have the funds available to hire good lawyers to mitigate their circumstances.
Having grown up in a tough town during a tough time, and also as a member of a lower socioeconomic class, I was a prison teacher who could empathize with the students, while at the same time not condone the actions that landed them in one of my classes. Over the years, I presented numerous lessons on empathy at every opportunity. The students in my classroom had it expressed outright, and in subtle ways to, “treat others the way you would want to be treated”. Yes, it’s the golden rule!
Even before my job as a prison teacher, I was employed at a high school and came to realize that people may act outside of the norm because they have issues they may be looking for help dealing with. I have a wide collection of horror stories from my students, both from prison and from high school, but I will save that for another day. I personally was emotionally abused as a child; never given a hug, repeatedly told that I was stupid and would never amount to anything, and had the constant threat of abandonment. Having grown up during the space race with an interest in science but having no drive to succeed in high school, after being chastised almost daily for not doing homework assignments, I passed a Physics class with a D so that I would graduate. Upon learning that I passed the course, the high school teacher went on to tell me to investigate a career field in basket weaving. That kick in-the-ass could have sent someone with less self-esteem over the edge on a downward spiral, but it inspired me to show him, (really to show myself), that I wasn’t stupid! After enlisting in the military and working hard to turn my life around, I earned a Physics degree from a prestigious university. I turned my hatred for that teacher into a positive force, and now realize that he was trying to do his best.
Having just sat on the psychoanalyst’s couch and admitted to all that, the point I am trying to make is that teachers must challenge students. In the field of corrections, teachers must take a far more tactful approach than my former high school teacher who put a flame under my young ass, (which luckily didn’t explode). We must consider that some incarcerated individuals were on the right track but made a slight error in judgement with little money for a good lawyer, others may have grown up in horrendous conditions of physical and emotional abuse and acted out as adults. Members of both groups could have wound-up in my classroom. The institution had strict rules for proper dress, for being on time, and for completing assignments, etc. The important part of being a good corrections teacher is caring and giving latitude. It is easy to turn a minor rule infraction into a teachable moment. I feel that both the students and I really had fun learning to follow rules, and then we would get into the really deep subject matter about computers and electronics that made time and place inconsequential. I am truly going to miss teaching at the prison. My students there were some of the brightest people with the best focus on achieving a successful outcome that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. If I were to go back into business, I would absolutely consider any one of my former students for an employment opening, without hesitation.
If you are an employer, please do not keep someone with past discretions from at least interviewing for an employment opportunity. Many of the students that I taught in my Computer/Electronics class went on to gain their certification as an Electronic Technician by essentially completing a two-year college-level course in one-half the time. I gave them the kick-in-the-ass, just as I got many years ago from my teacher, but in a subtle way.

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