The importance of academic and ethical education for inmates.

Author:Faulk, Natalie
Position:Speak Out

I began my current job as a prison teacher in July 2013 after realizing a few years ago that this was what I was meant to do. Even though I told everyone it was my dream job, I was met with skepticism. Why was it so unfathomable that I wanted to spend my time making a positive impact in the lives of those who needed it the most? Not only have I affected these inmates by their own admission, but my attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and life have been improved dramatically by them.

I spend my days in a concrete-walled, oatmeal-colored classroom for six hours each day with anywhere from six to 16 convicted medium-security male offenders helping them obtain their General Educational Development (GED) diplomas, while offering motivational quotations, words of the day and reward stickers. It is very apparent who my students are: the ones with the backs of their IDs plastered with a myriad of reward stickers. In an environment fraught with penalties, I try to be a shining ray of positive reinforcement. In my eyes, they are not murderers, gang members or drug dealers, but valuable human beings who I genuinely want to help succeed. I am, in essence the cheerleader many of them never had. I care, which is something unheard of in many small towns where the prison is the primary employer--and sometimes in the corrections field in general. I have devoted most of my adult life to the criminal justice system as a student, researcher, writer and employee, and admittedly, for the longest time adopted the prevailing "offenders are bad" mentality. However, at this point in my life, I want to make a positive impact.

I will never forget my inmates' first graduation. I was placed in charge of the graduation committee and embraced this position enthusiastically. [wanted everything to be perfect: the decorations, the food, the ceremony, the seating chart and the processional. I think I wanted it more than those who were actually graduating. I spent hours in the planning process, stayed late to oversee the floor wax crew and to set up the visitation room, and worked with the department secretary on the program from home via email during my two-week Christmas vacation. Despite a few minor hiccups, everything went well, and when these guys walked up to the podium to receive their GED diplomas and associate degrees I had to stifle my tears of joy. While everyone heralded my efforts, the consummate praise was from those who graduated, for they were the ones for whom I...

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