Thoughts on School for the Incarcerated

12 10 2010

“We don’t get the chance to choose very much around here. Me, I choose to go to school!” – a student in my class

Philip (not his real name) has been in an Institution since he was 13. He has been in Youth Detention Centres, Provincial jails, Pre-trial Centres and he now resides in a Maximum Federal Institution. Phil is well-versed in what he is not allowed to do. He knows the rules of the house and for the most part, he is abiding by them.

What separates Phil from many others in my class is that in less than 40 days, he is getting out. Outside. Out from the watchful eye of a Corrections Officer. Out from the daily routines of prison life. Out from having to make few decisions to a world where he will make all of his decisions. I suppose that is one definition of what it means to be free. A classmate of his asked Phil what he’s looking forward to and he had a long list. One snippet of that conversation caught my attention:

I haven’t had an ice cream cone in a long time. And the beach. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a beach. People don’t realize that it’s things like that that a guy really misses.”

Phil has never written a cheque or had an email account. He’s never been on a sports team where he’s worn a jersey that matches his teammates’. He knows a lot about the Internet, but he’s never surfed the web.  He’s driven (albeit stolen vehicles), but he’s never owned a Driver’s License.

Although Phil will be leaving the confines of the Institution soon, he recognized the value of his education and he has chosen to pursue the path of higher learning. Adding decimals will be a necessary skill when he checks his receipts from the grocery store. Calculating Simple and Compound Interest may no longer be abstract concepts.  His writing skills will also be tested everyday. He had the choice to take high school courses while on the inside and by choosing to do so, I believe he has strengthened his chances of making it on the outside.

Phil will always be a questionable character in the eyes of those who know of his prison background. Acceptance is going to be an uphill battle for him for the rest of his life. There is a peculiar sense of satisfaction that I feel though in knowing that I’ve been one person who has helped him build skills that will benefit him as he pursues a new life in society.

I’ve been thinking about his release day a fair amount this past week and I’ve been wondering if his preparations will be adequate enough for him to successfully make the transition back into society. Only time will tell. I’ve also wondered what I will say to him. It will probably be one of the only times in my life where I will hear myself say: “Good luck – I hope I never see you again . .  at least back in this school.

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