High school classes at the prison normally meet Monday through Thursday. However, last week we added Friday school for inmates who are classified as seniors. I was asked to fill in for the Friday teacher and agreed in spite of some misgivings. It would mean coming into the prison on my own rather than with a group of teachers, and I would have to make my way through the many gates and doors alone.
Apart from some difficulty getting one door unlocked, everything went smoothly with no problems at all. The inmates/students already were in the classroom when I arrived, and they worked diligently on their coursework the entire time.
When class was over, one of the seniors came up to me and thanked me for coming in to work with them that day. She said it meant a lot to them, and that they appreciate the opportunity they have been given to complete their high school diplomas. That’s a far cry from what teachers usually hear these days. For a teacher, it can’t get much better than that!
As we arrived at the prison this week on Monday, I was stopped in the hallway by an inmate who said she wanted to apologize for her behavior two weeks prior. She wanted me to know that she was very sorry for her behavior in class and that she intended to work hard in the future and complete her studies. Of course I accepted her apology and told her I was glad she would be returning to class, as she had been out since the “incident” in question. The incident, however, was a puzzle to me, something with which teachers in regular high schools deal every day. It had barely registered with me as being a problem, certainly not one that would have warranted an apology. Not wanting to do school work, she had chosen instead to sit in class and write a note to someone. But in a prison that is offering a chance for a high school diploma, choosing not to work is unacceptable, and an apology was required.
Inmate counts are done at regular intervals and are an important part of prison life. As teachers, we are used to being interrupted by officers coming in to count inmates. On Tuesday, though, it became almost comical. An officer would come in and count, and then another officer would come in and count, and their counts were not the same. So they would start over and try again. The inmates were laughing that one of the officers never can get the count right.
Finally, all the inmates from all classrooms were called into the hallway, with classroom aides lining up on one side of the hallway and student inmates on the other side. I guess the officers finally got the proper count. Or maybe not, as one officer came in again and listed inmates by the dormitories in which they live.
When school was over for the night, instead of taking inmates back to the dorms the officers had them line up again in the hallway. Each inmate was patted down before being allowed to leave. What were the officers looking for?
Inmate responses included comments such as,
“Why are being searched? We’re not criminals!”
“Yes, we are!”
“Not everyone here did what they are accused of.”
“I did! I did what I was accused of!”
The classroom aides, who also are inmates, were very concerned because they are in charge of classroom supplies. If anything comes up missing from a classroom, prison officials hold the aides responsible, and they are placed on “lock down.”
The pat-downs were still in progress as we left for the evening. I do hope nothing was found.