The impact of literature on the incarcerated population
“For the members of at least one segment of the American population,
not wanting to read is no longer a problem. They’ve been hooked by
that awful “stuff” that they once, as a junior and senior high
despised” (Aaron, 1990).
literature is used only as a way of escape, a way to explore the unknown but
for the incarcerated population, the reading process can take on a variety of
meanings and serve several purposes. As
an incarcerated educator I have observed the personal effect literature has
had on this population. Many individuals may perceive this population to be
struggling learners with little or no ambition for learning. This perception may be true for some, but I have noticed how
books take on a new meaning for the incarcerated population.
Inmates that choose to take up their time by picking up a book are
finding themselves able to escape. They
are able to put themselves in another place or time for a few minutes.
Reading allows them to talk about and share something other than their
problems or they may find a novel that parallels their life and so are able to
relate to literature. When
considering all of this I would have to ask the following: How does literature impact the
incarcerated population? Is there
enough literature provided for the inmates to choose from?
What types of literature based programs is offered in correctional
facilities? How can I provide a quality literature experience for my students
in a non-sentenced facility? Do prisons provide an environment in which
prisoner’s literacy can flourish?
As educator’s we are taught the
importance of reading to your child. When they are small a literature
experience serves a multitude of purposes.
One could draw the conclusion the incarcerated population were not able
to experience a bedtime story at night or had no one to
with homework. There was no
quality time spent with the child and no early development of early literacy
skills. Many people come to jail leaving behind small children at home.
this cycle continue? Are
these children left behind with no parent to read a bedtime story to them or
help with homework?
“It is estimated that up to 90% of those incarcerated in this country
have not graduated from high school when first admitted to the correctional
system”( Anderson & Anderson 1996).
Many states are now mandating that all minors attend school to receive
a high school diploma or GED. They
cannot escape being involved in the reading process or being exposed to
literature. While typically
incarcerated education emphasizes vocational training, learning basic skills
and preparation for the GED, acquiring other skills are often
overlooked. Once the
student receives their GED the learning process comes to an end (McLaughlin
If an appreciation is developed for literature the learning process
will continue. Students will find themselves questioning, analyzing and
learning continuing to develop a variety of skills.
Through my observations, when the incarcerated
population read literature they can relate to, their reaction becomes more
objective and just for a minute they set aside any feelings of hostility.
They often tend to see things in black and white, I
find when I choose a piece of literature that is culturally relevant, my
students are able to express their feeling about the story, and bring
themselves into the story line by relating to the characters. When a dialogue
takes place, students find they are not the only ones who have felt the way
they are feeling about a specific situation.
I find the story itself guides the direction of the class and it takes
on the role of the teacher, as students begin to develop questions and use
their analytical skills.
Literature plays many roles for the incarcerated population, but (Waxler
& Trounstine 1999) had a different vision for the use of literature.
They developed a program called
“Changing Lives Through Literature.”
This program was funded by the Massachusetts State Legislature.
The Office of Correctional Education in Washington
D.C. gave the opportunity to Waxler and Trounstine to put together this
program. As this program is an alternative to incarceration.
The primary focus is on those
individuals who are on probation. The
program forces the individual participants to read and discuss literature that
is related to their crimes they committed.
Through this program, many see, for the first time the future
consequence their behavior may create.
I had the opportunity to attend a conference with Waxler and Trounstine
and discuss the success of their program.
It was very interesting to listen to their success stories with the
program. They talked about grown men crying when discussion took place
each week about the stories read within the group. They talked about the impact the literature and discussion
had on the group. Waxler said
many of the participants on probation demonstrated a realization through
discussion of the problems they were faced with.
Methods of healing were discussed within the group.
“Changing Lives Through Literature” was one of many Literature based
programs established for a population of our society that holds little or no
education. “There is an almost
universal theory that illiteracy and criminality are synonymous.
National literacy surveys around the world inevitably focus on the lack
of literacy ability among the world’s prisoners”
(Wilson 1996). It is up to
those of us working with the incarcerated population to find ways to end a
cycle of illiteracy and lack of education.
If it can start by the simple process of picking up a book, there are
many options of encouragement available.
Many of these options will be discussed within my research.
From jail to Yale was the story of Charles Dutton’s life (Heroes, 1994). Actor
and director Charles Dutton is known for his role in Crocodile Dundee,
the stage play The Piano Lesson and most recently director of
the HBO mini series, The Corner. This
is just a brief overview of his resume. It
was amazing to listen to the interview with this man.
His life as a teen was a mirror image of many of my students. Growing up in the projects of East Baltimore Maryland he was
involved in a fight at the age of 17 that would change his life forever.
He killed a man in self-defense. He
was released after 2 years. Shortly
thereafter, he was caught and arrested again for carrying a deadly weapon.
This time he would spend 7 years behind bars. While in jail, he spent a lot of time in solitary confinement.
During one trip to solitary he took a piece literature with him to
read. He read this play by a very dim light, and after finishing
the book he knew what he would do with his life.
He decided to direct this play, which was a comedy, in prison.
It was a big hit for him and he found the direction for his life.
This is a true example of the power of literature.
Finding methods of teaching a literacy based program in jail can be
very difficult, as discussed in my interviews. But, “successful prison
literacy programs are learner centered and participatory; they put literacy
into meaningful contexts and motivate and sustain learner interests” (Kerka
1995). Her belief is literacy
programs should be tailored to the prison culture.
Society places great emphasis on literacy demands and the recurring
linked cycles of poverty and low literacy rates put many of the incarcerated
population at a disadvantage upon release.
Those released from prison often find it difficult to
enter back into society because there lack of skills and are often
reincarcerated. (Kerka as cited, Paul, 1991) Kerka recognizes the many
problems with incarcerated education such as: overcrowding, limited funding,
material and equipment and many are likely to have had a negative schooling
In contradiction to what most believe about prison literacy Wilson
(1996), found a gross misjudgment on the low levels of literacy. Wilson feels you can not categorize a literature experience
in jail to one in the outside world.
After reviewing my data collected I believe that those inmates
interested in a literature experience will read any material available.
(1997) addressed the argument that Whole Language theorists and adult
education theorists have much in common, much to say to one another, and much
to learn from one another. Constance
Weavers perspective of Whole Language instruction developed for primary
grades. This trend is changing.
The Whole Language approach juxtaposes the different worlds of
elementary level and adult education not excluded those levels in between.
Lewis (1997) states “that the theories of instruction are similar if
not identical in both fields.”
There is a nationwide thrust to adopt a high-stake testing for promotion in
grades 6, 8, and 11 which is
forcing many schools to adopt a test-driven approach to increase the
achievement of struggling adolescent readers” (Tatum, 2000).
Students who are strong students will continue to be successful on
these exams, but what about those who are slipping through the cracks.
Are these the students who end up in the justice system?
Evidence suggests that states without high-stakes testing perform
better than those states with it (as cited in Tatum, Neill, 1998).
“ Using culturally relevant literature is key to a culturally
It has been suggested that African American adolescent
in low-level reading
tracks (particularly those who live in poverty and in politically and
defunct communities) need to read, write and discuss literature that
them develop cultural competence” (as cited in Tatum, Ladson, Ladson
When one thinks about the incarcerated population, it is most common to
reference males. We can not
forget the female population and their experience as a prisoner.
Women in correctional settings present special concerns for adult
literacy educators because, for some women offenders, literacy education is
not a top priority (Palmer &
Stino 1999). Women enter the
system facing problems of drug abuse, poverty, domestic abuse, neighborhood
violence and single parenting (as cited in Palmer & Stino, Boudin 1993).
Women offenders have a tendency to be romantic, passive, dependent,
religious and generally unrealistic about life.
developing an effective literacy program for women offenders, it is
appropriate to consider some pressing issues dominating the adult literacy
arena. “Inmates will not achieve anything that even remotely
resembles intellectual or characterological
rehabilitation without first becoming motivationally ready to take
responsibility for remaking their own lives.” (as sited in Palmer &
Stino, Pellegrini 1992)
For many incarcerated women, their stay in jail is short, and there is
great importance for this population to gain some skills that will assist them
in finding employment. “This
may be the only chance for some women to develop marketable skills. If those skills are not developed, the door becomes a revolving one” (Baird, 1997).
Unfortunately, after teaching in an incarcerated setting for 2 years it
has been a revolving door for some. I
am always asking; “When does this cycle end?”
project similar to that of Waxler and Trounstine was the focus of Bairds study
(1997). The 1994 literacy program
was implemented for incarcerated women, parolees and probationers.
The program format was four cycles each lasting ten weeks for 1 ˝
hours each week.
program took place at prisons and off site locations for the remainder of the
group. The incarcerated women and
parolees participated on a volunteer basis. The project is incorporated into a
structured rehabilitative program
for the members involved. Basic
models of reading, reflecting and writing was the focus of the groups.
The topics and related literature changed according to learner
“You are here because of your past.
We are here because of your future” was the motto of Rohne’s (1998) classroom in the Haynesville Correctional facility in
Haynesville , VA. In 1989 the
Virginia state legislature passed a law that gave the opportunity to prisons
to cut inmate time to 85% if they
took part in the Literacy Incentive Program.
The program was offered to those inmates who held reading levels below
the 8th grade. Students
must raise their reading levels to 8th grade and achieve a series
of life skill competencies in order to receive a decrease in their sentence.
noted within the review of my surveys, there is great emphasis placed on the
Bible with the incarcerated population. Historically
the Bible was used for a variety of purposes in jail.
During the 19th century the Bible was the
only piece of literature allowed in jail.
It was used as an instruction piece for Sabbath school and it was used
as a leisure reading tool. “The Bible served as a spelling book and grammar,
history and geography text, in edition to its religious purpose” (Gehring
1995). Prison chaplains during this time period looked to the Sunday Sabbath
school instruction. “In
1822 New York State law was liberalized to permit the distribution of Bibles
to prisoners” (as sited in Gehring, Wallack, Kendall & Briggs, 1939).
McLaughlin (1997) answered the question, why
She states, for the world of the incarcerated prisoner tends to be a
narrow and self-absorbed one, and it becomes difficult at times to teach basic
literature is an effective means of counteracting a self-absorbed way of thinking.
When many inmates read a good book they feel less alone.
Good stories teach about compassion and deepen our understanding of
human nature, life, love and addresses several facets of life. While the typical child that is guided through literature in
school, with a strong family influence is capable of responding to life’s
situations. The incarcerated
youth, most often was not exposed
to a literacy experience that assisted in giving some direction.
Many incarcerated who receive their GED often feel their learning has
come to an end. But, Mclaughlin (1997) believes if you teach someone to
appreciate and learn from literature, the result is a person who will continue
reading, questioning, analyzing and learning.
She feels through reading and reacting to literature, incarcerated
students learn to see their situations more objectively, to put aside feelings
As a correctional educator, a major obstacle I am faced with is the
instruction of those students with learning disabilities.
Thirty to 50 %of inmates have some type of learning disability compared
to 5% to 15% among the general adult population (National Adult Literacy &
Learning Disabilities Center, 1996). Correctional
education programs help inmates to break the cycle of low literacy skills and
criminal activity by providing them with the knowledge and skills necessary to
succeed in society. Studies
indicate that inmates who undergo correctional
education average up to a 20% reduction in recidivism from prison
population. There are many issues
that must be considered when considering this population.
Another important issue to consider is the continuation of the cycle.
In 1998 it was estimated 200,000 children in this country have an
imprisoned mother and more than 1.6 million have an imprisoned father
(Seymour, 1998). This number was
projected to grow by 6.5% (as cited in Seymour, Gilliard & Beck, 1998).
Parental incarceration causes chaos for these children.
children with incarcerated parents live in poverty before, during, and after
their parents’ incarceration (as cited in Seymour, Johnston 1995), thus
eventually continuing the cycle. It
is important for the children that there is some type of family preservation
promoted. Many facilities are
developing programs for this purpose.
It is crucial that inmates with children be aware of the importance of
education and a strong literature experience, which should be shared with
their children when the opportunity presents itself.
Juvenile offenders who have children, must see themselves as readers,
writers and storytellers before they can carry literacy home to their own
children (Hill, 1998). One
juvenile residential facility addressed this concern.
Trudy Sewell a teacher at the facility developed a program planning
weekly interventions, showing students how to implement literature activities
with their own children. The
students followed through by recording the impact of that intervention.
The students and their children found the experience to be both
successful and regarding.
Approximately 70% of the residents of Washington D.C. correctional
facilities have not completed high school and are below the 9th
grade level. Many residents with
children are not aware of the importance or do not engage in developmentally
appropriate practices with their children which would promote literacy and the
love for learning. The
students of these parents find themselves struggling academically
Part of the frustration incarcerated parents feel is, he/she is not
capable of contributing to the growth of their child.
The Georgetown University Law Center (1999) developed the D.C. Family Literacy Project.
This program helps the parents to develop the literacy of their
children through enhancing their own literacy-building and parenting
The incarcerated parents learn new ideas in child
development and family literacy, such as reading to children, storytelling,
expressive arts and crafts, putting them into practice during special family
visits. The program gives a much
needed opportunity to bond with his or her child in a setting surrounded by
books, skits, arts, singing, and family interaction.
The Law Center has found their program to be very successful.
Participants involved with this research were the incarcerated
population from the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse NY.
The Justice Center is a non-sentenced , 660 bed facility for those
awaiting sentencing. It is also a
Federal holding facility for federal crimes. Because I work at a non-sentenced
facility, I deal with a very transient population.
I see my students from 1 day to 1 year, which makes it very difficult
for any long term instructional planning.
My students attend school 4 days a week.
Each day is split in 2 sessions. In
the morning my GED students attend school.
They are brought to the classroom at 8:30 and returned to their cells
at 10:45. My co-teacher and I
split the groups keeping the females and males separate.
I start instruction with the females, teaching anywhere from 3-8 during
any given class. We never have
had more than 10 females in class during my term at the jail.
At 9:45 the students change classrooms and we usually have 15-20 males
attend school in the morning. At
12:30 we receive our ABE (Adult Basic Education ) students. These students range from pre-k – 8th grade.
Again this group is split. I
start with the pre-k-4th grade first and at 1:30 classes change.
At 2:15 the students are returned.
We average a daily enrollment in the afternoon of 18-26 students.
Friday we Tabe test new students to the facility.
Any new minors that were brought into the facility during the week and
any new adults are brought to the classroom.
The Tabe test is a grade equivalent exam that measures the students
reading and math skills. The
students score will determine if they will attend GED or ABE class.
co-teacher is responsible for teaching math, science and social studies.
I am responsible for teaching literature arts and writing.
My classroom has 20 computer stations with CCC (Computer Curriculum
Corporation) installed on the computers.
This is a canned computer program that allows me to install skills work
based on their Tabe scores. I
also teach computer skills to the students and Office Skills from 3:00-6:00
Monday – Wednesday.
The members involved with my research, were students involved with the
education program offered by the Justice Center and the Syracuse City School
District. Thirty-five students in
the GED/ABE and Office Skills class took part in an individual literature
survey (see appendix A).
The population is a predominantly African American male population. Three out of 35 students were female. The participants age
ranged from 16-35, with ninety percent of the students under the age of 20.
Eighty-eight percent of the students have less than an 10th grade
education. The educational level, is supported by my findings in my research.
Education is mandated at this facility for all minors 20 and under.
Any inmate over the age of 21 may participate in the GED program, but
it is not mandated . A total of
ten open ended questions were given to the students.
It is my intention to get an idea about my students literature
I also surveyed the Family Education class.
This class is made up of both male and female inmates who have
children. Literature should not
only be a personal experience if there is a child in your life.
The literacy experience must become a family, shared experience. I do
not teach this class and was not present for any conversation that may have
taken place during this survey.
The premise for doing this survey was to get the inmates thinking about the importance of reading to their children. Included with my surveys I conducted interviews with 3 inmates and 2 deputies.
I received a variety of responses from the data gathered.
Some responses were not surprising but I found some to be very
interesting. When asked what type
of material do you read, many students answered a very common choice: the
bible or pornography magazines. A common thread between many students who
demonstrate higher level academic skills discussed authors instead of book
titles while filling out the survey.
I was hoping for an individual effort with no discussion while filling
out the survey, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, comments flew around the room about favorite authors such as:
Dean Koontz, Donald Goens, Stephen King just to name a few.
I found this discussion to be very interesting.
My students were having a discussion about authors and the styles of
writing. The readers were
encouraging the non-readers to consider reading books.
As the dialogue continued I found myself very interested in the
conversation taking place.
When asked the question, “what does reading mean to you?”
Most students did say it was important and it is the ability to
understand things. A small number
of students answered, “It means
nothing to me.” Many students
remembered their first reading experience from school.
Some students did answer it was at home and remembered grandma, or an
older sibling reading to them. Very
few students answered the question by saying my mother or father read to me,
which did not surprise me. The
majority of the students found themselves reading more in jail than they would
on the outside. Some students
said they don’t read in jail or out.
most students, when asked if their education is important to them, they
answered yes. When asked if the Justice Center supplies enough reading
material, the answer was a mixed reaction.
who enjoyed reading didn’t feel there was enough books to choose from.
Many felt the books were old and in very rough shape.
Pages were ripped out or written on making it obviously difficult to
read. Many inmates who are readers depended on family members to
supply them with books. Some said
they often trade books with one and other to get a variety of modern
literature. The non-readers didn’t acknowledge this question.
Most inmates felt that reading had a positive affect on their life.
Some answered by saying it help them to better comprehend and
communicate with others. They
felt they were exposed to words they never saw before.
I was surprised that no response suggested it helps with writing.
There was no correlation made between the reading and writing process
for them. I did find many
commonalties within the answers on the survey.
Thirty students from the Family Education class completed a 5-question survey
(see appendix A). The age group
ranged from 17-38. There was no
inmate with less than 2 kids. Again
the questions were open ended, hoping for a written response.
asked, “do you read to you’re children when not in this setting,” I
received a wide variety of answers. Some
individuals answered yes when I can get my child/children to settle down.
I read to them when I feel like it, or once and a while.
I had a male student who was 38 with 3 kids say he read, talked and
sang to his children all the time when they were in their mothers stomach and
I still read to them. I found this answer to be interesting. I came to the conclusion this father had some pre-natal
inmates didn’t know if their child were being read to on a regular basis
now. Some inmates knew that their
children were read to occasionally. Those
inmates that were given visits said they would read a book with their child
during the visit.
students felt that it was important to read to their children.
Some expanded on this question by saying it helps with their
understanding, it will help them in school, reading calms them down and it
creates a bond with the child/children. I
can only hope they will remember the importance of reading to their children
when and if they are released from jail.
Some parents have created stories to tell their children and there was
also a group that answered no to the question, “have you ever created a
story to tell your child.” In my opinion from the feedback I received on
this question, they saw little importance to storytelling.
In my review of literature I found that several facilities are focusing
on developing programs to emphasize the importance of using literature with
children. It was my intent to
explore the inmates perception of using literature with their children.
On November 3, 2000 I conducted the interviews for my research.
The three candidates chosen for the
interview process are students in the education program and are
representative of the population at the Justice Center.
first inmate I interviewed was a white male age 21.
Inmate -A attended GED classes for 8 months and received his GED
at the Justice Center. He was
obviously very proud of this accomplishment.
He has one son age 4. He
is also a student in the Family Education class and receives visits with his
son. He takes advantage of any
and all vocational and educational programs he is allowed to attend.
I started by asking Inmate-A “What was your
first memory of reading.” He
responded by saying kindergarten when my teacher read to me.” I asked if he had any favorite books as a small child and he
said no. He said the only person
outside school that read to him was his grandmother when he went to visit her.
He said he read a lot when he was in school and he had his own little
collection of books at home in his room. He often watched his grandfather,
mother and father read the newspaper when he was a little kid.
He said that’s what he remembered the most.
He thought reading was important because it built a better
understanding of things, opens your mind and lets you see the way other people
think. When Inmate-A
reads he feels that it expands his mind and gives him something to think
about. Being incarcerated, he
said, reading is like a free world for him and it puts him someplace else.
It also takes his mind off things.
He finds himself reading a lot more being incarcerated because it makes
the time go by faster and it takes his mind off from being in jail.
He talked about his literature experience with his son and said he has
always read to him. He said his son has several childrens books and every time he
comes for a family visit he brings a book for daddy to read to him. He
said he started reading to his son as a newborn.
He felt that reading to his son was important because it gave him
something to think about and he likes it.
feel there was enough reading material in the facility and it was very
difficult to find anything on the shelves because they were always a mess.
He said they at least had books to read.
He has been in other facilities and there wasn’t even a library to
choose books from. He depended on his reading material from his family and
exchanging with other inmates and deputies.
One question I asked to each inmate was in reference to teaching
literature in the classroom. I asked Inmate-A
to look back on his literature experience when he was in a traditional
classroom setting and compare it with the school setting in the Justice
Center. He felt it was very
different because in school you could complete a play or novel but in school
at the Justice Center he felt it was impossible.
He said when you force kids to go to school they will rebel and make
the learning environment more difficult for those that want to learn.
kids are on not in tune to
learning like myself.” Inmate-A
didn’t feel there was anything different that could be done to use
literature in the classroom because he felt that you couldn’t push things on
them they got to want to learn.
said that he talks about books all the time within the pod (housing unit) and
they are always swapping books.
a 20 year old African American male with 2 kids. He dropped out of school in
the tenth grade to move down south to help his grandmother.
He has an order of protection against him so he can not be a part of
his children’s literature experience and not aware of their exposure to
books. He is presently enrolled in the GED program and Office Skills
vocational program at the Justice Center.
He is very eager to learn and will most likely pass the GED exam when
he takes it. He will be leaving
the facility the week of November 13, and will not be there to take the GED.
It is my hope he will follow through and take the GED where ever he
his first experience with books in kindergarten when he would get in circles
and the teacher would read to the class.
He was never read to at home but he remembers he starting picking up
books when he was in 1st grade.
He said he read more at home than school remembering names of his
favorite books like Dr. Seus and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.
He went to the library when he was a kid to get books because there
wasn’t books in his home. He
said the only books in the house were school books.
The only person he remembers reading was his sister.
He thinks reading is important. He
said when he was growing up he lived on the South side and there was a lot of
negative stuff going on. His
mother told him not to go outside so he did a lot of reading.
It was a way of getting away from everything.
He said he does read more being incarcerated.
It’s a way for him not to be confined.
He visualizes what he is reading and the book takes him to another
place. It takes his mind off his problems and the time passes fast.
He spoke of his daughter saying, “he felt she was very smart.”
He said, “me and my daughter’s mother read to her when she was very
little. She is now 2 and knows
her ABC’s and can count to 30.” He
attributes this to her early exposure to books.
This showed him how important reading was.
His girlfriend also talked to him about the importance of reading to
their daughter. He said, “I
would often read to the baby when it was in the mother’s stomach.” He developed the habit of reading to his children early and
he felt this was important.
He also felt that there was not a big variety of books to choose from.
He receives most of his books from his girlfriend and they often have
discussions about the books over the phone or by letters.
feels that literature can not be presented in the same style that it is
presented in a traditional classroom setting.
He feels the same as Inmate-A
on this topic. He said we
are in jail and most inmates will rebel against anything, and if they don’t
want to learn or go to school, you
can’t make them. He said when
these people are forced to do something even it is something positive like
going to school, they will still turn it into a negative experience for
themselves and others.
was a white female age 38. She
has an associates degree and was a middle class working mom with 2 children, a
daughter age 14 and son age 20. Her
first memory of reading was when she was three years old.
Her older sisters use to read to her.
She remembers the first time she read was in 1st grade in
Catholic school. She remembered
reading a lot in school and enjoying it.
In high school she found herself being drawn to Shakespeare.
She was very intrigued by the language and poetry of
his writing. She also remembers
reading books like The Outsider and The Diary of Anne Frank.
She said she had a family immersed in literature.
She remembers seeing her mother and sisters reading all the time.
She feels reading is very important because it educates you and expands
your knowledge. It opens her eyes
to different attitudes and the way people think and feel.
She feels that reading is a way to educate herself.
It exposes her to new vocabulary.
She also feels reading will help a student with other subjects in
school in the area of comprehension.
like the others finds herself reading more in jail than outside.
She said also it makes the time go faster and she doesn’t talk much
to the other girls on the pod so reading keeps her busy.
She commented that it took her 3 days to read a 600 page while in jail
while it would take her a week or more on the outside.
We discussed the literature experience she shared with her children
when they were small. She shared
books with bright colors to get their attention and she said they enjoyed
listening to her voice while she read to them.
This was a very positive experience she shared with her children.
She felt this literature experience did help her children when they
started school even though both children were diagnosed with dyslexia.
also felt there wasn’t enough reading material in this facility.
She mentioned that the library on her pod had a lot of love stories and
GED books, but she said students that attended GED classes didn’t take
advantage of those books. She
said that very few of the women do read.
She joked that people refer to her as the librarian and when a female
inmate wants to read a book the come see her for a good reference.
Even though she has a high school diploma and college degree we did
discuss the differences of the way literature is taught in a traditional
classroom and the classroom at the Justice Center.
She also felt as did the others it was impossible to present literature
the same way.
if you force kids to go to school they will not take an active part in class.
is a member of my Office Skills class and did comment that it was a
good class. She felt the computer
experience and exposure to computers was very valuable for the students in the
I also interviewed to deputies who are involved with my department.
Both are deputies for the classroom and are avid readers.
I found the dialogue that took place with them to be very informative.
They both commented and agreed that many inmates read for a variety of
reasons. When inmates are locked
in their cells it gives them something to be entertained by during this time.
Inmates read to keep themselves out of trouble.
Many read instead of watching t.v.
Both deputies do discuss books with inmates that are
interested in reading. They both
agreed inmates are very receptive to the dialogue that takes place about
books. Sandi enjoyed hearing and
sharing the different perspectives on books that she shared with the inmates.
Phyllis commented that she reads a lot of westerns and many of
the male inmates enjoy discussing the westerns with her.
They both recommend books to the inmates as do the inmates to them.
Sandi commented she felt they were more stuck on authors then actual
titles of books and the inmates will read every book by a particular author if
given the opportunity. They felt that the books available were feast or famine.
All books are donated so they basically take what they get.
Sandi made a comparison with the old jail saying there were no books
available and this facility was a step up.
deputies felt there were many benefits from reading for the inmates.
Phyllis felt it was a stress reliever and it kept their mind off of
being incarcerated. She said
“books allow you to put yourself in another place and time.
You always have the anticipation of what will happen next.
It also gives the inmates something to talk about.”
Sandi agreed with Phyllis and added that it was educational and will
help develop their skills on the outside.
I asked the question, “do you feel literature can be presented in a
classroom jail like a traditional classroom setting?”
This question was also asked to each inmate.
Both deputies basically felt the same as each inmate.
Phyllis felt the students in class at the Justice Center had a
different agenda and for many minors school was not on that agenda.
Sandy felt the structure of teaching is so different from a traditional
classroom that it would not be possible to present literature in a manor
similar to a traditional classroom. She
also mentioned the many different levels the students were at and felt it was
difficult for group instruction. Phyllis
mentioned the inmates would not take part because they did not want to be made
fun of by the other students.
They both felt it was difficult teaching in a
non-sentenced facility because you may see a student from one day to one year and it is difficult to follow
through with instruction.
I learned a great deal from the methodology.
I felt that each method of gathering data provided me with a wealth of
information. I feel the most
valuable data gathered came from the interviews from the inmates and deputies.
Much of my data gathered concurs with research from other facilities
and national statistics.
In researching my topic, I found very little data referencing education
in a non-sentenced facility. Although
none of my interviews felt it was possible to deliver a quality literature
experience within the classroom setting, I will continue to search for the
answer to, what types of literature based programs are available for non-sentenced
do I meet the needs of those students who would be labeled, as a special
education student in a traditional education setting? How can I encourage the non-readers in my classroom the
benefits of the reading process? Through
my research I came to the realization that I must make the reading and writing
connection obvious for my students in order for them to make the connection
realizing a literacy experience.
I have also realized our judicial system should re-think the sentences
they hare handing down to individuals who may be best served by a sentence
other than jail time. It is
obviously much more cost effective to sentence an individual to a 10 week
literature based program than to a jail sentence.
We often look to our justice system as a means of rehabilitation, but
so often for many inmates rehabilitation will never take place.
Incarceration is just a continuous cycle for many who get caught up in
a no win situation. Why should an
18 year youth be placed in jail for trespassing, with no criminal history and
get a 5 month sentence with no bail? This
doesn’t make sense!!
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