Most people are surprised to hear there is no security officer assigned to each individual prison classroom. I have up to 25 individuals in each class, and I am basically responsible for the security. Occasionally, a security officer does come down the hall, or we can call for help from an in-house phone, if necessary. But basically, I discipline my own classroom. In a future blog, I will elaborate on how I deal with discipline, safety and security.
The challenge is to produce more results, more quickly while still honoring our mission statement. The mission entails encouraging lifelong learning as we prepare the inmates to re-enter society as productive citizens. We are always trying to develop new strategies and to maintain high standards of teaching, as well as increasing efficiency. Sound familiar? I know that’s a silly question.
It is very difficult to reward the inmates, because we can’t bring anything in or do anything that would be construed as trafficking. Trafficking is defined as giving something to the offenders or taking anything of value from them. I cannot even buy pencils for my students, because that would be considered trafficking.
Once at Christmas when I was very new, I had hopes of bringing in a cookie for each of the students. I wanted to bake Christmas cookies for them but was denied because there are issues with people bringing in marijuana-laced items. Plus, it’s considered trafficking to share food.
Fraternization is also not allowed. This would include any behaviors which could be construed as getting too friendly with an inmate, whether by giving them special attention or favors. If you use your imagination, you can probably realize what favors a male inmate might want, even from an older female teacher.
So, positive reinforcements are difficult, but not impossible. For example, awarding an occasional certificate, allowing them to choose a video to watch, and verbal positive comments are acceptable. However, I do have a secret weapon I will tell you about in a future blog, of all places, on organization.
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at www.lockedupwithsuccess.com.