It takes some true grit to teach in a prison, and there are some fundamental things you must know if you are interested in teaching there. Mental strength is a must, as is knowledge about your environment and what can happen in such an environment. In prison, everyone wants to be your friend, but friendship isn’t free here. Below are some tips you might want to read before signing on in a prison environment.
Being Prison Strong
When you began working in a prison the inmates will call you a fish and try to get-over on you unless you can convince them you have worked in the system in some capacity for at least some of your life. Many officers do not believe in the concept of prison education. Get used to that. They will fail to let your students/inmates out of their cells on a regular basis, and they will enjoy it. It makes me annoyed.
Know your prison. Know the names of the yards, and know what level inmates are held where. Know your specific yard, and know your corrections officers and the rest of the staff which will likely include a Deputy Warden, a Lieutenant, a Captain, a Visitation Officer, the WIPP (inmate pay) Officer and one or two Corrections Officers IV’s or COIVs on each yard. You need these people on your side. Without them, they can make the average day, a nightmare.
Be aware that you are not really pretty, smart, handsome, well dressed, or articulate. You are nothing to inmates until you prove yourself. They will compliment you and tell you how great you look, smell, dress, and how lucky your family is to have you, anything to convey a positive message. They do not do this for kicks, but rather to gain your empathetic ear and later to bring things into their world. Once you cross that line and bring them anything, no matter how small, they have you where they want you, because they can always tell. They will swear on their mother’s grave they won’t tell on you, but they will. Never, ever trust an inmate; there is a reason they are in prison.
What They Won’t Tell You
Hiring supervisors don’t think to tell you about the little things that can add up to giant things. First, never be alone with any inmate ever, for any reason. There is no acceptable reason to be alone with any inmate. Every inmate is always in crisis. When they need something, “You are the only person who can help me!” they will plead. NO. Your new favorite word is NO. Learn it, say it, and practice it.
Seeing success on the face of an incarcerated individual is an amazing feeling! You have changed someone’s life because you care. I know I have.