Posts Tagged ‘powerless’

classroomYears ago I taught creative writing in a maximum security prison in the States. One day I found out what was really important in prison. On this particular Friday, the director told me I had to shorten my class by half an hour. “There’s a group from the state government in Madison coming to inspect the school and it has to be cleared of all inmates. (I wondered why a school should be cleared of its students for an inspection, but I kept my mouth shut.) Instead of two hours, I would only have an hour and a half.

I accepted this change without complaint. At least I had a class that day. Sometimes I drove up to the prison only to find that the place was locked down. The men were confined to their cells and there would be no class. I got the class started quickly and launched into our plan for the day.  After forty-five minutes a young security guard opened the door of the classroom, walked in and, without even a nod to me, interrupted what I was saying and told the men to get out.

I have spent a lot of my life in school.  From the nuns at St. Ann’s to the professors at the University of Wisconsin, everyone held the classroom as inviolate. No one could barge in on a class as this guard had just done. Besides – we had forty-five minutes left.

“There must be some misunderstanding,” I said

The guard looked at me for a second and then faced the men. His face tightened and his voice rose. “I said OUT.”

“We have another forty-five minutes,” Walter said. powerless

“The State Inspection Team is due at 10:30,” Brian added.

Jim looked worried and began to fidget.

“The director of education…” I began.

The guard cut me off. His whole body tensed. “You men get out of this classroom or you go on repor

Nobody moved. “You got no right,” Walter muttered.

“Listen,” I said, trying to find a reasonable answer, “why don’t you check with the director. He’s in his office.”

The young guard’s face flamed red with anger.  “This is your last warning, you men. Get out.”

I saw from Walter’s face that a confrontation was coming. A prison riot could start in the school.   I tried to calm things down.  “Men, I’m going to take this thing right to the top.  Not only is this against what the director said, but it’s an invasion of the classroom.  In my opinion the classroom is sacred.  I’m as angry as you, but for now I suggest you comply.”

Amid angry mutterings, everyone left. I went to the director immediately. When I explained what had happened, he shrugged.  “That’s one of the things about teaching in prison.  You have to learn that security is top.  Just forget it.”

But I didn’t.  On the way out of prison, I stopped at the office and asked to see the head of security.  Surprisingly, he admitted me.  After I explained the situation again, he said, “That’s young Burns, the guy who came into your classroom.”

“And?”

“His dad worked here until last year.  Had a heart attack.”

“Do you think it’s right to just barge into a classroom?”

“You come up here all the way from Milwaukee?”

“Yes.”

“The director of education tells me you volunteer.  Is that right?”

“Yes.  Can I get clear the rules for the classroom?”

“You have to understand this is a prison.  But what we need are more volunteers like you.”

The man was dodging me, not very artfully. “I’m very upset about what happened.”

“Yes, I’m sure you are.  The Department of  Corrections needs good people like you.”

“What about the classroom? Can a guard just barge in like that?”

“This is a prison.”

What could I say?  I had no threat to deliver.  If I said I was walking out and would never teach again, his response would have been indifference.  After fifteen minutes of listening to him give me public relations, I left, defeated.  Security was king.

powerlessI was powerless. Funny. That’s the word convicts use to describe their situation – powerless.

Are convicts powerless? Why do many of then think they are? Why do so many staff think this?

Images courtesy of:

  1. lifeatfullthrottle.com
  2. shop.choosetoawaken.com

While I taught in a maximum security prison in Wisconsin, I learned a sad lesson. I learned what was most important in prison. On this particular day, the director of education told me I had to shorten my class by half an hour. “There’s a group from the state government in Madison coming to inspect the school and it has to be cleared ofclassroom all inmates. (I wondered why a school should be cleared of its students for an inspection, but I kept my mouth shut.) Instead of two hours, I would only have an hour and a half.

I accepted this change without complaint. At least I had a class that day. Sometimes I drove up to the prison only to find that the place was locked down. The men were confined to their cells and there would be no class. I got the class started quickly and launched into our plan for the day.  After forty-five minutes a young security guard opened the door of the classroom, walked in and, without even a nod to me, interrupted what I was saying and told the men to get out.

I have spent a lot of my life in school.  From the nuns at St. Ann’s to the professors at the University of Wisconsin, everyone held the classroom as inviolate. No one could barge in on a class as this guard had just done. Besides – we had forty-five minutes left.

“There must be some misunderstanding,” I said

get outThe guard looked at me for a second and then faced the men. His face tightened and his voice rose. “I said OUT.”

“We have another forty-five minutes,” Walter said.

“The State Inspection Team is due at 10:30,” Brian added.

Jim looked worried and began to fidget.

“The director of education…” I began.

The guard cut me off. His whole body tensed. “You men get out of this classroom or you go on report.”

Nobody moved. “You got no right,” Walter muttered.

“Listen,” I said, trying to find a reasonable answer, “why don’t you check with the director. He’s in his office.”

The young guard’s face flamed red with anger.  “This is your last warning, you men. Get out.”

I saw from Walter’s face that a confrontation was coming. Another prison riot could start in the school.   I tried to calm things down.  “Men, I’m going to take this thing right to the top.  Not only is this against what the director said, but it’s an invasion of the classroom.  In my opinion the classroom is sacred.  I’m as angry as you, but for now I suggest you comply.”

Amid angry mutterings, everyone left. I went to the director immediately. When I explained what had happened, he shrugged.  “That’s one of the things about teaching in prison.  You have to learn that security is top.  Just forget it.”

But I didn’t.  On the way out of prison, I stopped at the office and asked to see the head of security.  Surprisingly, he admitted me.  After I explained the situation again, he said, “That’s young Burns, the guy who came into your classroom.”

“And?”

“His dad worked here until last year.  Had a heart attack.”

“Do you think it’s right to just barge into a classroom?”

“You come up here all the way from Milwaukee?”

“Yes.”

“The director of education tells me you volunteer.  Is that right?”

“Yes.  Can I get clear the rules for the classroom?”

“You have to understand this is a prison.  But what we need are more volunteers like you.”

The man was dodging me, not very artfully. “I’m very upset about what happened.”

“Yes, I’m sure you are.  The Department of  Corrections needs good people like you.”

“What about the classroom? Can a guard just barge in like that?”

“This is a prison.”

What could I say?  I had no threat to deliver.  If I said I was walking out and would never teach again, his response would have been indifference.  After fifteen minutes of listening to him give me public relations, I left, defeated.  Security was king.

I was powerless. Funny. That’s the word convicts use to describe their situation – powerlesspowerless.

Images courtesy of:

  • newforyou1991.blogspot.com
  • diverseeducation.com
  • openclipart.org