Educational Series #7

I am a massive advocate of prison education. Over the last five years, I have earned several certificates, diplomas, and more – all from behind bars. I am pursuing my degree (English & Sociology) through Ohio University. I won’t give you a complete account here – this post is about the technical elements of college behind bars – but I will point you in the right direction. The complete list of my educational accomplishments from behind bars can be found at and

First, what the Bureau of Prisons says about college behind bars. The FCI-Petersburg Inmate Admission and Orientation Handbook states, “General educational courses are primarily completed through correspondence courses. However, inmates must pay for their own tuition, books, and materials for all post-secondary courses. Prior approval for all courses must be received by Education Department staff.”

Second, the truth of the matter. College from behind bars is challenging, not only to enroll in but to succeed. The first step is to find a school. This can be very challenging, considering that the library will probably not include any information on the subject. Hopefully, when my book, Education Behind Bars, comes out, the task will become much easier for those interested.

After finding the school the prisoner wants to attend, they must approach the College Coordinator in their prison’s Education Department. He will have to give this person some basic information about himself and the school he wishes to attend. Ideally, the College Coordinator will be decent and inform the prisoner of the rules and regulations. This will depend on the luck of the draw.

The next step is filling out the package authorization forms. These forms direct the mail room to allow correspondence course materials to enter. This means the student must have funding in place and know which course(s) they want to take. These forms include the addresses of the school and the prisoner-student and the contents of the package (e.g., textbook(s), title(s), folders, study guides, etc.).

At this point, the student orders the course from the school and pays them. Once the package arrives, the student will be called to the Education Department to receive the materials. After this, the student is ready to go.

All correspondence courses are based on a textbook and a study guide. This means that the student must follow the instructions in the study guide and complete the assigned reading. All coursework will be written. So, students who take a mathematics course will submit their work on paper and worksheets. If the course is an English course, then the student will submit a paper for each lesson.

Eventually, the student will come to a midterm and a final. For these, the student will fill out the proper forms again. However, this time, the exam will go directly to, and stay with, the College Coordinator who will proctor the examination. When the student is ready, they will sit in a room with the College Coordinator and complete the exam. By proctoring the examinations, academic integrity is maintained.

It should be noted that some courses are portfolio courses. If this happens, the student will not take a written exam. Instead, the student will submit a paper or several papers. This option is usually only available for English or other humanities courses. It should be noted that these courses can be challenging. After all, it’s much easier to answer a question than to write a whole paper correctly.

The student then repeats this process for each course that they take.