Personal Update (4-29-2011)

As I write this, it is nearing midnight and most of the other cell lights are off. People are in bed, which is where I am, too. But I'm sitting up, book light clipped to my Ohio University English textbook, and a pad of paper to write upon on top of the textbook. I find that at night I get my best work done. This is for a number of reasons. The primary reason is the reduction in noise. By 11:30 p.m. the din of noise has reduced to the occasional scream or banging against one's door.

As part of the blog’s format change, I've decided to experiment as to what I write. I suppose that tonight's blog, being a "Personal Update," is born out of a desire to create and unwind. After all, just because one is in prison doesn't mean that they don't have any stress. In fact, one is presented with stressors of unimaginable proportions. A prime example is the hatred directed at me for being productive.

The productive aspect is one of jealousy. To anyone wasting their life away in prison, the prisoner-student writing a college essay or taking an ACE (Adult Continuing Education) class is a threat. They feel reduced and somehow threatened because of this productivity, because of being left behind. Naturally, this isn't my perspective. I do what I do not to belittle others. My writing and studying activities bring meaning to my life. I try to empathize with ‘them.’ Yet my empathy does not thwart their animosity.  

I'm sad to say that I have intimate experience with discrimination. Because I am a prison educator I am shunned...by some. Just a few weeks ago I had an argument with a man in his late 30s or early 40s. He was upset with me for teaching my class. He felt that I was helping the prison's administration earn money by teaching my class. Somewhere in his warped mind he felt that all prisoners should refuse to take any courses because the prison made money when prisoners attended classes.

How is one to reason with such a man? Better yet, how can a man make it to 40 and still not have a basic understanding of how the world works? I didn't want to be rude by saying, "First, you go to school. Then you get a job." But this is what I was thinking and feeling! I was thinking that this man NEEDS to gain some semblance of education. And I was sad because I knew that he never would, at least for the time being. Perhaps the revolving door of prison isn't just an administrative and legislative issue so much as a local or personal issue? I can only hope that this man comes to his senses before he leaves prison. If not, I have a feeling that I'll be seeing him in here again. I have seen this all too often over the last five years.

Life in prison is tough. I won't lie to you. It really has been quite a ride. I still remember entering Polk. It was a place where one couldn't even read a book, much less engage in any real form of education.

Thank God these days are easier. Here one just has to avoid the idiots and watch out for the jealous attacks. One such attack that was forged against me involved a note. A man named John McPartlin, a prisoner who used to be here, became upset with me because of my book. He was jealous, plain and simple. So, instead of stepping up to the plate and writing a magnificent article or book itself, he typed a note about me and turned it in. This note alleged numerous instances of wrongdoing on my part, my friend's part, who posts these blogs for me, and even wrongdoing on my book's part. After an investigation I was cleared, but the mental scar still exists.

As I write this, I question my intentions and motivations. I don't write to convict, but to discover. I guess that at times it is helpful to discover by means of a pen and a pad of paper. But as for the start of this blog, the noir focus, it is because I've been down as of late. To me it's easy to get depressed when one is constantly in the "go" mode. To relate, think of how it's easy to be annoyed when you don't get enough sleep or when you have a hard day at work. That's my life! This is not to say that I don't enjoy the work that I do, I love it!  But I have worn down considerably over the last few weeks and months. As I told my dad, "One of these days I am going to take a vacation...maybe next year." The kick is that next year I will put it off until the following year and so on. Do note that I am speaking of taking some time off, not going to some far away land. I'm in prison after all.

Besides life being life, I'm rather pleased with where I am. I know, I'm in prison, but for once in my life I've found a calling that I enjoy that doesn't involve copious amounts of alcohol. Thus I consider it a marked improvement! Perhaps even a career?

As for my work outside of class, today I focused on two primary activities. These are an English course and a mathematics course that I'm currently taking through Ohio University. In the English course I'm dealing with an essay on a particularly difficult decision that I have had to make. For this one I've chosen the signing of my plea agreement. To me it felt as if I was literally signing my life away. In the mathematics course I'm dealing with rather simple computations. Regardless, I'm glad I understand the material. Just today I received lesson 2 of my mathematics course back. I scored 100%! I suppose that dad was correct when he said that hard work does pay off. I know, I know, you were right all along.

Besides my classes, I'm ramping up for the newsletter that I've founded, the Education Behind Bars Newsletter (http://www.christopherzoukis.com/ebbn/). Just the other day the web page went up. Of course, nothing is on it yet. The first post will be in June with the debut issue. So far I have the logistics worked out through Linda Huddleston over at Midnight Express Books (http://midnightexpressbooks.com), and the copy service in NY that I've lined up. The first issue will have a paper-based circulation of 300. After the first mailing we'll see how many recipients request to be placed on our permanent mailing list.

As I consider this project I find myself using skills I’ve never used before. For example, I've had to figure costs, project these costs against current funding (via a generous donation), and make tough decisions to ensure the sustainability of the project. Do note that the reason I haven't had to apply these skills before is because I was in high school prior to prison. Well, high school, then rehab, then to prison.

One topic that I should probably touch upon is that of ideology. I don't feel that it's right to charge a subscription fee for the Education Behind Bars Newsletter (http://www.christopherzoukis.com/ebbn/. The reason for this is because I feel that an education is a basic human right that should be afforded to all regardless of captive status or ability to pay. With this being said, EBBN will be entirely supported based upon donations and potential advertising. It should also be noted that all funds received go toward supporting EBBN (e.g. printing, layout, and mailing). The only people on staff that are compensated are the copy service and Midnight Express Books;,this is their business after all. So if you're interested in advertising or making a donation then you can contact me at chriszoukis@gmail.com or mail donations to:

Midnight Express Books

P.O. Box 69

Berryville, AR 72616

*All donations should be made out to Midnight Express Books, but note that they are for the EBBN project.*

Outside of all of these projects, I'm having a decent time reading a few reports/articles of interest to those in the prison education/social justice communities. The first is the new Pew Center on the States (http://www.thepewcenteronthestates.org) report entitled "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America's Prisons." This report is focused on measuring recidivism rates to ascertain if our current methods of reducing recidivism are working. The report clearly shows that they are not. This is shown by the minimal drop in recidivism rates over the last decade and the huge increase in spending on corrections – over 400% annually!

The second article is a 33-page article entitled "Cost and Punishment: Reassessing Incarceration Costs and the Value of College-in-Prison Programs," by Dr. Gregory Knott (http://works.bepress.com/gregory_knott/1). This is a scholarly article focused on reducing recidivism and correctional costs through in-prison college programs. I'm actually going to contact Dr. Knott to see if he would be interested in syndicating his content on this blog or guest blogging in his own right.

The third is a 15-page report entitled "Reentry Courts: Looking Ahead," by the Center for Court Innovation (http://www.courtinnovation.org/Reentry.html). This report is based upon a roundtable discussion in which the focal point was reentry courts. Reentry courts aim to, as the report states, "promote sober, employed, and law abiding lives while offenders are under supervision and to ensure that when offenders are released from supervision they have tools to continue to sustain sober, employed, and law abiding lives." All of this is certainly a good thing.

When all three of these are taken into account a truth can be gleaned. The Pew report shows us that recidivism is real and that our current efforts are not working. The article by Dr. Knott shows that prison education, particularly college-level education, is a proven method of reducing recidivism and lowering correctional costs. And the Center for Court Innovation report describes the importance of reentry courts. All three documents verify what is required to salvage the lives of the millions who find themselves under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

To me, when the three documents are viewed together, they open a vast realm of possibilities, including methods to help people while saving money. I think the answer is that there is not one correct answer. Rather there are many answers. The answer I choose to bring to the table is that of educating prisoners. Your answer could be focused on reentry or sane sentencing guidelines. Regardless of what your answer is, proffer it. Make it heard. Do something with it. No one answer will solve all of our criminal justice problems. But a collection of answers might just do the trick. With this being said, I for one would love to hear your ideas. But more than that, I would love to see them help those in need.

I hope that you've found some tidbits of truth or entertainment in this blog. My goal is to add more color to the blog, to be more dynamic. With this being said, I'd love to hear from you regarding whether or not you feel that "Personal Updates" like these are helpful. I'd also like to hear if you feel that they belong on a blog focused on prison education. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. I can easily be reached at chriszoukis@gmail.com.

Before I close I have four quick thoughts to note. One, my Twitter account is now active. My handle is czoukis. If you are interested in following me then you can go to your Twitter account and find me @czoukis.

Two, I'm actively looking for guest bloggers. So, if you are an expert on prison education or know someone who is then please drop me a line or mention the idea of guest blogging to a friend. I'm also interested in receiving article submissions for the Education Behind Bars Newsletter (http://www.christopherzoukis.com/ebbn/) or even for this blog. I think that stand-alone articles previously published or not, could really add some great content to the blog.

Third, as part of this new format change I am searching for studies and reports on prison education. As I find them, I will seek permission to add them to this blog via a pdf file. As I receive permission I will post it in the right, unused column of the blog. This way you will have all of the resources on prison education that you need at hand. My hope is to add to this over the next few months until this blog becomes the prison education study and report source.

Last, a new media page (http://www.christopherzoukis.com/media/) just went up. Please feel free to stop by here and read my first press release, my prison's regulations for media interviews, and the Friend of Prison Education letter. Both the press release and the letter explain more of what I've been up to and my advocacy for education behind bars.

Well, it's now a little after 2 in the morning. I'm going to go to bed. The only creatures still awake are the birds that live in the rafters and me. I hope that I haven't rambled on too long. I'll get the "Class Update" posted tomorrow.

Stay strong and fight the good fight!